Erections are complicated and problems with them are common, so struggling to get it up is nothing to be ashamed of. But ED can often be the symptom of poor lifestyle choices or a broader health problem. Things like exercise, a good diet and avoiding too much alcohol can all help you get harder erections.
You’ve probably heard the saying ‘nothing worth doing is ever easy’. This applies to staying hard without pills if you struggle with erectile dysfunction. It is possible to achieve firmer erections by adopting certain lifestyle changes, and sometimes this means changing regular habits and introducing new ones.
The benefits of exercise are wide-ranging and well known, but here’s a quick recap:
So you might think of exercise as a bit like a wonder vitamin. Exercising moderately for two-and-a-half to five hours a week, or rigorously for 75 to 150 minutes a week, is enough to lower serious risk and keep you fit.
And do you know what else exercise is great for? Erections. That’s because ED is often caused by vascular problems, which interferes with your ability to get or maintain an erection. And exercise is good for your vascular health.
Cardio, otherwise known as aerobic exercise, is physical activity ‘relating to, involving, or requiring free oxygen.’ It’s low to high intensity exercise that raises the heart and breathing rate. In the gym, you might have heard of ‘cardio’ machines. Examples include the treadmill, elliptical and cycling machines.
But you don’t need to go to the gym for a good cardio workout. Other examples include brisk walking, jogging and running, and erectile dysfunction symptoms can benefit over time from these simple cardio exercises (as well as from many others).
Regular cardio over time helps your overall cardiovascular function and health improve, and it also helps to increase blood flow to the penile tissue and muscles (called the corpus cavernosum.)
This is because erections depend on good vascular health and blood flow. Research shows that men with higher levels of physical activity report less symptoms of impotence.
It’s also well known that regular aerobic exercise improves mental health and overall mood. This is because the body produces endorphins when you exercise. This too can benefit erectile dysfunction: particularly when it’s caused by psychological factors like anxiety or depression.
So we’ve covered cardio, but what about strength exercises?
You can think of exercise as two sides of one coin. It’s important that we strike a good balance between aerobic exercise and strength exercise, or resistance training.
Strength exercises are those which target the muscles and build strength and endurance. It’s often associated with weights, but can be defined in three ways:
These exercises and resistance training groups are designed to build muscle and endurance, but most of them will also raise the heart rate and breathing. This can help with ED, because – that’s right – good erections depend on good blood flow and circulation.
Strength exercise also impacts testosterone levels, in some cases causes the body to produce more, and testosterone plays a pretty important role in libido.
Yoga is an ancient form of low-intensity exercise which focuses on strength, stretching and breathing. It’s long been claimed that yoga benefits mental health and mood.
But how effective are these techniques, and can they help with erectile dysfunction? Yoga will require some form of physical exertion, which will help with circulation and blood flow (especially when performed regularly). This, in turn, can help with the symptoms of impotence.
But what about meditation for erectile dysfunction? Well, it’s less about the physical and more about the mental. This is because a lot of meditation is about (through practice) letting go of worry and stress. It’s about becoming comfortable with yourself and your mind.
This might not sound like your thing, but there is some evidence that meditation can help with ED. One study found that ‘mindfulness group therapy framework offers a feasible and potentially promising treatment avenue for men with situational ED.’
We get told from an early age how important food is (‘eat your greens’, ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’, ‘carrots help you see in the dark’ and so on).
While some of these phrases are exaggerated, they all have roots in truth. Fruit and vegetables are one of the most important food groups, and as part of a balanced diet, they can have a number of far-ranging benefits.
The reason for this is because different food groups, and the varying foods within those groups, contain different vitamins and minerals which all have different jobs in the body. For example, milk contains calcium, which benefits the teeth and bones.
Eating a healthy diet reduces the risk of developing many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and cancer. And some medical conditions which poor diet is a factor in can damage the blood vessels, and have a knock on effect for your erections.
But are there any foods that are actually good for ED?
You may have seen articles from herbalists and holistic practitioners claiming that you can take garlic and honey for erectile dysfunction, or spices like paprika and cumin. Spinach, cayenne bell peppers, coffee and oats are also sometimes on these lists. But evidence of a correlation between any of these foods and improved sexual function is anecdotal at best.
While there aren’t any foods that are specifically known to treat ED, eating a balanced diet will help you to stay generally healthy; and being generally healthy reduces your risk of getting ED.
Yes, is the short answer. Recreational drugs, smoking and alcohol consumption all have the ability to cause serious, long-term damage to the body and impact the ability to get or maintain an erection.
Recreational drugs can include illegal drugs, but also prescription medication if misused and taken for pleasure. Drug misuse can impact the blood vessels and vascular function, and also impact sexual desire and libido.
Nicotine, also a drug, has a similar effect. Smoking can decrease libido, but also cause many health conditions which impact cardiovascular health. This, in turn, can cause problems with erections.
Drinking alcohol also carries risks, especially if you drink too much over time. Alcohol interferes with the ability to get an erection for a number of reasons in the long and short term.
Drugs are bad for erections for a number of reasons.
For example, drugs like cocaine and speed which induce a stimulating effect in the brain can also cause the blood vessels to narrow and become too constricted. Erectile dysfunction can also become more severe if these types of drugs are misused over long periods of time.
Other drugs like barbiturates, and prescription antidepressants which are sometimes misused or taken recreationally, may also reduce libido and sexual desire.
It’s well known that smoking is incredibly dangerous and addictive. In fact, it’s the leading cause of cancer in Australia, where around 11.2% of the population smoke daily. Nicotine use increases the risk of several cancers, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, damaged blood vessels, pneumonia, COPD and many other conditions.
But if that wasn’t enough to make you think twice about smoking, it also increases the chances of developing erectile dysfunction. Why?
Because cigarettes contain a lot of chemicals which have no business being inside the human body. Examples include carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and arsenic. A lot of these harmful chemicals can damage the blood vessels which pump blood around the body, and to the penis, sometimes permanently. Nicotine also has an instant effect in reducing blood flow and constricting the blood vessels.
But that isn’t all. If you developed a serious, chronic health condition from smoking – like cardiovascular disease or heart disease – this can also have a knock on effect for your erections.
So it’s better to avoid smoking altogether.
Alcohol misuse can carry a lot of risks – including for your erections. In fact, the popular consensus among experts is that no single level of alcohol consumption can be classified as ‘without risk’.
This has led medical professionals to create ‘low-risk’ drinking guidelines to help keep the risks of alcohol consumption to a minimum. In the UK, this is 14 units of alcohol a week, spread across the days of the week, with ‘sober’ days in between. To give an idea of how this looks in practice:
Excessive alcohol consumption – that is, drinking more than 14 units per week consistently – can increase the risk of a number of health conditions. These can include blood pressure problems, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and digestive problems.
Of the physical causes of ED, cardiovascular disease was the cause 40.82% of the time, and diabetes 33.67%. And these are two conditions that excessive drinking increases the risk of.
But alcohol can also have short-term effects on the ability to get an erection, because of how it reacts in the body and how it affects the central nervous system. It’s well known that a heavy drinking session can decrease your chances of getting it up. This is because it’s a depressant, and it impacts the brain’s ability to send chemical messages where they need to go (in this instance, to the penis).
So even if you don’t have a persistent problem with ED, it’s better to stay within sensible limits if you’re hoping to ‘perform’ later on.
A lack of sleep can be dangerous for a number of reasons. In the short term, it can cause you to feel tired, groggy, grumpy and stressed. In the long term, it can increase the risk of several health conditions including obesity, coronary heart disease and diabetes, and even lower life expectancy.
The short term effects of sleep deprivation that affect your mood may also interfere with your ability to get an erection, just because you won’t feel like it. You may feel tired, stressed or without energy.
The long term effects of sleep deprivation can also damage, sometimes permanently, the vascular system and blood vessels. This can make getting or keeping an erection much more difficult.
As much as we’d like, there isn’t an instant miracle cure for erection problems like ED. If you want to know how to keep an erection for longer, there are simple steps you can take.
That includes getting regular exercise, with a good mix of aerobic and strength exercise, avoiding recreational drugs and not smoking, and sticking to the ‘low-risk’ alcohol consumption guidelines. The more you perform good health practices such as these, the better your ability to stay hard during sex will be.
Erections happen because, in times of arousal, blood rushes to the penis and fills two muscular chambers known as the corpus cavernosum. Keeping an erection means that once the penis is filled with blood, the muscles at the base can constrict well enough to keep it there – ensuring you stay hard.
If you want to learn more about the severity of your ED symptoms, you can work out something called your International Index of Erectile Dysfunction (IIED) score, by doing a questionnaire. Knowing how badly you suffer with impotence can help inform the steps you take to make erections last longer.
If you’ve ever wondered how you get an erection, or even how to get an erection on command, ensuring you live a healthy lifestyle is only half of what needs to happen. You also need to be aroused.
One of the biggest misconceptions about ED drugs is that they get you in the mood and stimulate you sexually, but this isn’t true. They only help the blood vessels to dilate, allowing for blood flow into the penis.
When you’re turned on, the brain sends chemical signals to the penis. The blood vessels in the penis will dilate, allowing for blood to flow in. Once filled, the vessels at the base constrict which ‘traps’ the blood, keeping you hard.
So if you’re not aroused, you’ll struggle to get it up.
If you’re struggling with arousal, it can help to:
Why does ejaculating make your erections weaker? Why is it so difficult to stay hard, or erect, after coming?
Answer: the refractory period, which is defined as the period directly following an orgasm where the person is no longer sexually responsive. It’s more common in men, whereas in women it’s an area of more complex clinical focus. In men, the period can be thought of in two stages:
Stage 1. Following an orgasm, it’s physiologically impossible to get an erection or ejaculate again.
Stage 2. A psychological refractory period may also occur, where the man feels fulfilled and no longer interested in sex.
The refractory period is different for all men. Sometimes you may feel ready to go again in just a couple of minutes, but sometimes it can last hours or even days.
Longer refractory periods get more common with age, but other things can factor into how long they last, including cardiovascular health. It’s also alleged that certain exercises or training techniques can reduce the refractory period, such as pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT.) But this hasn’t been studied extensively.
It may also be worth speaking to a doctor or sexual health expert if you feel your refractory period is too long.
So you’ve tried:
- eating well
- reducing alcohol intake
- avoiding recreational drugs
- quitting smoking
- getting at least six to eight hours of sleep a night.
If you’re still having problems with erections, there are other types of ED options available.
ED treatment can help because it limits the action of a particular enzyme, known as PDE5, which causes the blood vessels to narrow and become too constricted. Treatments like Viagra and sildenafil are PDE5 inhibitors. Basically, they tell the body to open the floodgates. This means that in times of arousal, blood can flow easily into the penis and give you an erection.
PDE5 inhibitors are often beneficial to men who have adopted several lifestyle changes, but aren’t seeing any improvements downstairs. You can chat to a medical professional at Treated about ED drugs like Viagra and other PDE5 inhibitors. Answer some questions about you and your health, and they’ll suggest appropriate treatments that are right for you.
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Mindfulness-Based Group Therapy for Men With Situational Erectile Dysfunction: A Mixed-Methods Feasibility Analysis and Pilot Study. The journal of sexual medicine, 15(10), pp.1478–1490. [Accessed 19 Jan. 2020].
MEDITATE | Definition of MEDITATE by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com also meaning of MEDITATE. [Accessed 18 Aug. 2021].
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