Sexual Health Q&A

Q&A
Erectile Dysfunction
Can exercise help with erectile dysfunction (ED)?

Yes. In addition to other health benefits, regular exercise can improve a man’s erections in several ways.

Exercise is good for the circulatory system. It keeps blood flowing smoothly throughout the body.

Sufficient blood flow to the penis is essential for a firm erection. When a man is sexually stimulated, his penis fills with blood. This blood gives him the rigidity he needs for sexual activity. Once he ejaculates, the blood flows out of the penis and back into the rest of his body.

Without adequate blood flow, erection problems can occur. In some cases, the erection is weak. In others, the man is unable to have an erection at all.

Sometimes, blood flow problems develop because of damage to the endothelium or penile smooth muscle – tissues in the penis that are important for normal erections. This damage may be the result of high blood pressure or smoking. It can also happen if a man has high cholesterol, triglyceride, or blood sugar levels.

Once the endothelium or smooth muscle becomes damaged, the penis may not function normally, even with adequate blood flow. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is also more likely to develop. Plaque builds up on the artery walls, which can slow down or completely block blood flow.

Since the arteries in the penis are very small, often ED is one of the first signs of damage resulting from other medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Exercise does more than improve penile blood flow, however. Staying fit keeps a man’s weight under control, may increase his testosterone levels, and boosts his confidence. It can also reduce depression and anxiety.

In addition, sex demands some aerobic capability (being in the “on top” position) and some joint flexibility (caressing and stimulating the partner or changing positions during sex). Regular exercise can make these activities easier.

These factors can affect erections as well as other aspects of sexual health.

How much exercise does a man need for better erectile function? Scientists considered this question in an April 2018 Sexual Medicine article.

After analyzing 10 studies on the subject, the experts recommended 160 minutes weekly of supervised moderate-intensity aerobic activity (split into 40-minute blocks 4 times a week) for men with ED caused by physical inactivity, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, or heart disease. Men may choose to alternate moderate and vigorous activity or to add strength training to their regimen.

In general, aerobic exercise increases a person’s heart rate. Some examples are:

  • Walking briskly
  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Dancing
  • Aerobics classes at a gym
  • Jumping rope
  • Using an elliptical machine

Men should see a doctor before starting any exercise program. With a doctor’s guidance, a man can choose the types of exercise that are best for him.

Resources

Healthline

Chertoff, Jane
“10 Aerobic Exercise Examples: How to, Benefits, and More”
(Reviewed: May 3, 2018)
https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/aerobic-exercise-examples

MedicineNet

Weil, Richard, MEd, CDE
“Aerobic Exercise”
(Reviewed: August 10, 2017)
https://www.medicinenet.com/aerobic_exercise/article.htm#what_resources_are_available_to_people_interested_in_aerobics

Sexual Medicine

Gerbild, Helle, PT, et al.
“Physical Activity to Improve Erectile Function: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies”
(April 13, 2018)
https://www.smoa.jsexmed.org/article/S2050-1161(18)30029-1/fulltext

Psychology Today

Arash Emamzadeh
“Physical Activity Improves Erectile Function”
(May 8, 2018)
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/201805/physical-activity-improves-erectile-function

SexHealthMatters.org

“Exercise for Better Erections”
(April 21, 2015)
http://www.sexhealthmatters.org/sex-health-blog/exercise-for-better-erections

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