Resistance Training Improves Sexual Function in PCOS

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Sexual function and quality of life scores are commonly diminished in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).  Several strategies employed at once including dietary and lifestyle changes, acupuncture, emotional work, and aerobic physical exercise have all been shown to have positive effects on the metabolic and hormonal profiles of women with PCOS.  And although aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise programs have been well proven to benefit, Physical Resistance Training (PRT) may have even more significant benefits that haven’t been as well studied.


A new study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that exercise in the form of Physical Resistance Training (PRT) is associated with a significant improvement in sexual function and emotional health among women with PCOS.


The study was performed at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, where researchers examined sexual function and emotional status in women after PRT – the study group contained 43 women with diagnosed PCOS, and 51 control ovulatory women.  Their ages ranged from 18-37. 


A training protocol was initiated for 16 weeks, where the participants were required to perform a set of PRT exercises (weight-lifting exercises targeting all muscle groups – legs, arms, back, abdominal muscles) with a partner.  The program consisted of four microcycles of 4 weeks each – as the weeks progressed, they were made to focus on an increase in intensity and a decrease in repetitions in order to foster maximum lean muscle tissue gain.  The women were instructed to first stretch the muscles to be used that day in a dynamic (moving) fashion.  They then repeated 15, 12, 10, or 8 repetitions of each of 10 exercises, depending on the week of the program (weeks 1-4 = 15 reps; weeks 5-8 = 12 reps, etc).


The women were assessed by questionnaire in regards to sexual response and experience, as well as anxiety and depression scores.


What was found was pretty amazing – the group with PCOS improved sexual function scores of desire, arousal, lubrication and pain.  The control women showed only an improvement in the pain score.  Further, women with and without PCOS showed significantly improved measures of anxiety and depression.  Analysis showed that 34.8% of PCOS women were at risk for depression at week 0, and after the 16 weeks of PRT only 11.6% were at the same level of risk.  Similarly 44.1% of PCOS women showed a risk for anxiety before, while 23.2% showed the risk after PRT.  Results for the control group were significant but not as dramatic (depression risk dropped from 29.4% to 21.5%; anxiety scores decreased from 35.3% to 29.4%).


The great thing about this study is that all of the women benefitted, whether or not they had PCOS, by the 16 week program.  However, it shows that women with PCOS respond more significantly to the benefits of resistance training in the areas of sexual function and emotional health.


While cardiovascular exercise is beneficial, incorporating some regular resistance training into your workout regime may significantly benefit sexual performance and enjoyment for all women, as well as help to reduce the risks of depression and anxiety.



In health,


Dr. Kali MacIsaac HBSc, ND
Naturopathic Doctor


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