Testosterone, Sexual Performance and Lifestyle
Men store fat differently than women. While women pack it on in the legs and butt, men accumulate fat around the middle. That roly-poly midriff can be the kiss of death for many aging men. Before age 60, men have more heart disease than women. Many scientists reason that since men have much higher levels of testosterone than women, the hormone must be linked to heart attacks. Well, think again. New research shows just the opposite. Low levels of testosterone increase the risk of heart disease.
Scientists from Norway and the University of California, San Diego— led by Dr. Johan Svartberg— found that men with higher waist sizes had lower levels of testosterone. Men with waist circumferences greater than 40 inches had 30 percent lower testosterone levels than men with waists less than 37 inches. Large waist size depressed testosterone in men 25 to 50 years of age— the time they’re most sexually active.
Scientists aren’t sure if high body fat decreases testosterone or if low testosterone increases fat. Dr. E.C. Tsai and co-workers from the University of Washington School of Medicine— in a seven and a half year study of body fat and sugar metabolism in 110 middle-aged, Japanese-American men— found that those with the lowest testosterone levels gained the most abdominal fat. Low testosterone impairs metabolic health, promotes obesity and decreases sexual performance.
Testosterone is a fat-reducing hormone that interferes with an enzyme called “lipoprotein lipase,” which helps store fat. It also stimulates fat breakdown by turning on cell structures called beta-adrenergic receptors, which help move fat from fat cells into the blood, where it can be used as fuel. Testosterone also prevents your body from making new fat cells. Testosterone targets abdominal fat— particularly deadly internal organ fat— more than any other kind.
Testosterone has important effects on sex drive and sexual performance. The hormone contributes to sperm cell production and semen volume, sex drive and the capacity for erections (facilitates penile vasodilation). Overweight, inactive men often have decreased sex drives and difficulty getting or maintaining erections. These sexual problems can begin as early as the mid-20s.
Testosterone levels decrease in men after about age 35. Age-related decrease in testosterone is called andropause (“male menopause”), which is linked to muscle atrophy, psychological depression, declining sexual performance and reduced interest in sex. High testosterone levels boost sexual prowess, muscle mass and self-image.
Many experts say that there is no “male menopause” and that testosterone levels remain within normal values in most men— even in old age. Testosterone levels clearly decline during middle and old age. In adolescents, small changes in testosterone result in obvious changes in physical performance and sex drive. Middle age men often experience a 50 percent decline in the biologically active free testosterone between ages 30 to 60. They can expect declines in sexual and physical capacities— even though total testosterone remains within normal limits. Adequate isn’t the same as optimal. Active people want to perform at high levels in the bedroom or in the gym and feel great right up to the end! Good diet and exercise promote testosterone production and optimal sexual performance.
Follow these guidelines and you’ll have better sex and a healthier lifestyle. This program helps maintain healthy blood vessels, maximizes testosterone levels and helps maintain a fit, lean body. Specific recommendations about diet and exercise are described later in this article. The following guidelines are important for good health and sexual performance:
• Do 30 to 90 minutes of exercise every day. Regular exercise contributes to metabolic health, which optimizes blood flow control in the penis, increases testosterone and gives you the energy and libido for good sex. The time you exercise depends on your needs and goals: exercise longer if you need to lose body fat or improve aerobic fitness and less if you want to emphasize weight training or have limited time.
• Lift weights. Weight training boosts testosterone, increases testosterone receptor density (so the hormone works better), helps control abdominal fat, increases muscle mass and enhances self-confidence— all critical for sexual performance. The latest research demonstrates that high-intensity resistance training programs, which incorporate short rest periods (less than one minute) between sets, produces higher testosterone levels!
• Eat a healthy diet. Eat a healthy Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats, nuts and low-fat dairy products. Eating a low-fat diet lowers testosterone levels! Diets rich in high-glycemic carbohydrates such as refined sugars raise blood glucose quickly and trigger insulin release, which favors fat storage in the abdomen. Instead, eat low-glycemic carbohydrates preferably from beans, nuts (peanuts, walnuts, etc.) and whole grains (i.e., oatmeal). Also, lower carbohydrate and higher protein diets result in greater fat loss and suppress appetite. On the other hand, higher fat diets raise testosterone levels! Avoid saturated fats from fatty meats, cheese and butter. Choose healthy fats rich in monounsaturated fats such as beans, nuts and virgin olive oil and Omega-3 fats from fish to help boost testosterone.
• Supplements may boost sexual performance. Some research suggests that arginine improves sexual health. Vitamins E and C may help maintain nitric oxide levels by preventing free radical damage to the endothelium of blood vessels that produce nitric oxide. Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals produced normally during metabolism that promote aging and depress the immune system. Protein supplements may help you maintain a healthy weight and maintain muscle mass when trying to lose weight. Soy protein may hamper sexual health in men. Soy contains chemicals called phytoestrogens that bind with estrogen receptors and have many of the same effects as the natural hormone.
• Lose weight. Increased body fat, particularly if carried in the abdomen, decreases testosterone levels, makes you less desirable to women and promotes erection problems. Excess fat reduces free testosterone levels, which is important for normal sexual desire. Higher levels of body fat increase the blood levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which decreases the amount of biologically available testosterone. Researchers from Duke University found that losing weight decreases SHBG and increases free testosterone, which increases sex drive. Reducing SHBG effectively makes more testosterone available. Burning more calories than you consume, through a sensible program of exercise and diet, reduces abdominal fat and beefs up blood testosterone levels. In turn, higher testosterone levels help you manage body fat and improve your sex life.
• Don’t overtrain. Balance training and recovery because excessive exercise (especially aerobic training) depresses testosterone and impairs sexual performance.
• Get enough sleep and minimize harmful stress. Excessive stress and lack of sleep depresses testosterone, increases cortisol (a catabolic stress hormone) and lowers libido. Learn to distinguish good stress from bad. Good stress makes you grow emotionally and physically and perform at top levels. Bad stress grinds you down and impairs the immune system. Don’t sweat the small stuff!
• Think like a winner. Mental state has a profound effect on testosterone levels and sexual performance. Testosterone levels go up after winning an athletic contest, but go down after a loss. Assertive behavior followed by a rise in status leads to an increase in testosterone levels. Developing a winning mental attitude sets you up for success in life and great sex.
• Stay sexually active. The best advice for maintaining sexual health is to practice, practice, practice! Frequent good sex increases testosterone and improves metabolic health, which leads to more and better sex.
• See your doctor. Medical problems, such as diabetes and neurological disorders, can impair sexual performance. Training and diet may not be enough, so get checked out to rule out health problems. Many aging men, even those in their 30s, can benefit from hormone supplements. Testosterone and growth hormone supplements may be just what the doctor ordered to rejuvenate your sex life.