Does sex really help you lose weight? Guest authors Dr. Aaron E. Carroll and Dr. Rachel C. Vreeman put the myth to rest in an excerpt from their new book Don't Put That in There!: And 69 Other Sex Myths Debunked.
Myth: Have sex, lose weight!
Who doesn’t love the idea of sex as a workout strategy? Imagine – have fun, have orgasms, burn calories, and get in shape – all at the same time. Perfect!
Sex does burn calories. Experts estimate 30 minutes of sex burns 85 to 150 calories. Those calories could add up if you are having sex often enough. Theoretically, you need to burn about 3,500 calories to lose a pound of body weight, so if you were using up 100 calories every time you had sex, you could lose one pound if you had sex 35 times. That sounds pretty good. If you had sex more often or for a longer period of time, you could burn even more calories.
The problem is this: Most people are not having sex for 30 minutes. Instead, the average duration of sex is closer to 5 minutes. In fact, the biggest increase in your heart rate and blood pressure during sex only occurs for about 15 seconds during orgasm, and then things quickly return back to normal.
Plus, you probably don't work as hard as you think you do while you are having sex. Based on studies of young married men, the amount of stress on the heart during sex or the increase in the heart rate is estimated to be about the same as walking up two flights of stairs. It is considered mild to moderate physical activity, and your heart rate rarely increases above 130. Yes, you are doing something, but it’s not enough to count as a real workout. Of course, it’s possible that if you have to work a lot harder to have an orgasm, or if you are older, or not physically fit, sex might entail a bit more strain for you.
Unless you are having sex for much longer and with much more vigor than is average, sex alone is probably not going to get you anywhere near the recommended amount of exercise. The current recommendations for an adult to be healthy are to aim for two and a half hours per week of moderately strenuous physical activity. This would be the same level of effort as brisk walking or dancing. If you think you can achieve this with sex, by all means go for it, but most people are just not getting enough to reap all of the benefits of exercise.
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Dr. Aaron E. Carroll is professor of pediatrics at Indiana University’s School of Medicine and director of the Center for Health Policy & Professionalism Research and the Center for Pediatric and Adolescent Comparative Effectiveness Research.
Dr. Rachel C. Vreeman is an associate professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and codirector of Pediatric Research for the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) in Kenya.