HEALTHY LIVING
04/15/2014 08:42 am ET Updated Jun 10, 2014

Ask Healthy Living: Does Sex Really Count As Exercise?

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Does sex burn enough calories to count as a workout?

It's everyone's favorite workout that doesn't feel like a workout. Sure, it gets your heart pumping and you'll likely break a sweat -- but does sex really live up to its calorie-torching reputation?

Folk wisdom would have us believe the answer is a hearty yes -- and send us all to the bedroom to shed those gym clothes. But a small 2013 study published in the journal PLOS One aimed to find real answers. In the study, 21 heterosexual couples were first asked to complete a 30-minute endurance test on a treadmill at moderate intensity. Then, they were sent home with some sexy activity-monitoring armbands to do the deed at least once a week for a month. They were asked to note how each sex act made them feel "physically and psychologically, especially compared with running on the treadmill," the New York Times reported.

The researchers then crunched the data, finding that sexual activity burned around four calories per minute for men and three per minute for women. The activity between the sheets qualified as "moderate intensity" as measured by METs, or how much energy it takes to complete a task compared to sitting still. In METs, sex ranks at about the equivalent of walking uphill or playing tennis, according to the Times. The treadmill workout, on the other hand, rated more intense in METs and burned more than double the calories, according to the study.

Fine, so it's no run on a treadmill. But something's better than nothing, right? Depends on the somethin' somethin'. Three to four calories a minute can certainly add up, if you're going at it for quite some time. The average time of a sexual act in the study was 25 minutes, including foreplay, which would result in about 75 calories burned for women and 100 for men. Not too shabby! But, at least among users of the data-collecting app Spreadsheets App, sex usually lasts somewhere closer to two to six minutes, resulting in more like 20 calories burned. Womp womp.

Of course, like with any workout, the more, uh, vigorously you go at it, the greater the calorie expenditure you can expect to see. Not to mention there are a wealth of other ways sex does a body good, including strengthening the immune system, boosting heart health and banishing stress.

Bottom line? You probably shouldn't be too quick to swap your next trip to the gym for a roll in the hay. "Sex should not replace regular exercise," study author Antony D. Karelis told Men's Journal. "Rather, sex and exercise should both be incorporated into your routine on a regular basis. Studies show that each improves health, so the combination of the two leads to a greater quality of life."

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