Erectile dysfunction (ED) is one of the most common sexual difficulties reported by men. It is a complex problem that can be caused by numerous factors, including some that are biological, psychological, and social. In recent years, a significant amount or research attention has been devoted to understanding ways of preventing and treating ED, and a growing number of studies point to one thing men can do to potentially help themselves in this area that does not require popping any pills or spending any money: get more exercise.
As some evidence of this, a new study just published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine examined how the physical activity levels of 295 men were related to their erectile functioning . The group of men studied was relatively diverse with respect to race (32% of the men were Black), and the average age was 62.
The men were categorized into one of 4 groups based upon how much exercise they reported per week: sedentary (<3 MET hours per week), mildly active (3-8.9 MET hours per week), moderately active (9-17.9 MET hours per week), and highly active (>=18 MET hours per week). MET stands for “metabolic equivalent of task,” which is a calculation that takes into account both the amount of time spent on exercise and the intensity of it. Basically, this helps to take all of the different exercises people might do and put them on one standardized scale.
Participants also completed a questionnaire inquiring about the quality and frequency of their erections, their ability to reach orgasm, their overall sexual function, and so forth. Answers to all of these items were used as a global measure of erectile/sexual function with a possible range of values from 0-100.
The researchers found that the men who exercised the most (i.e., those in the “highly active” category) had the highest sexual functioning scores (specifically, their average score was 70/100. What makes someone “highly active?” You can get there through a range of activities. Generally speaking, though, it would take about 2 hours per week of strenuous exercise or 6 hours per week of light exercise.
Erectile function was substantially better for the highly active men than it was for the sedentary men, with a difference of 17.9 points between the groups on the sexual function scale. This difference was statistically significant and it did not depend on race—so both Black and White men reported better sexual functioning to the extent that they exercised more.
Men in the moderately active group appeared to score higher on erectile function than the sedentary group too, with a difference of 8.1 points between them; however, this difference was not statistically significant. Thus, it was really only high activity levels that were linked to better sexual functioning.
Of course, given that this is a correlational study, we cannot assume that exercise necessarily improved these men’s sexual functioning. For instance, it could be that men who are healthier in general (sexually and otherwise) are just more capable of exercise. However, it’s important to note that scientists have actually performed randomized, controlled trial studies demonstrating that physical activity does indeed improve erectile functioning . So, exercise does appear to have sexual benefits for men.
What all of this research suggests is that, when it comes to erectile health, men’s lifestyle matters.
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 Simon, R. M., Howard, L., Zapata, D., Frank, J., Freedland, S. J., & Vidal, A. C. (in press). The association of exercise with both erectile and sexual function in black and white men. The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
 Khoo, J., Tian, H. H., Tan, B., Chew, K., Ng, C. S., Leong, D., ... & Chen, R. Y. T. (2013). Comparing effects of low‐and high‐volume moderate‐intensity exercise on sexual function and testosterone in obese men. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10(7), 1823-1832.
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