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  • Erectile dysfunction (ED) is one of the most commonly treated sexual disorders.
  • To help with ED, it is recommended people avoid any nicotine products or anabolic steroids.
  • Walking often and sticking to a heart-healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, can help with ED.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to get and maintain an erection long enough to have sexual intercourse. It can be embarrassing to discuss, but it's not at all uncommon. Up to 20% of all men are affected by ED at some point in their lives. In fact, it's actually the most commonly treated sexual disorder.

Here are a few research-backed ways you can help treat and lessen the likelihood of erectile dysfunction.

Stick to a heart-healthy diet.

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A diet full of foods that help protect the cardiovascular system can also help prevent erectile dysfunction. This is because damaged or constricted coronary arteries can interfere with blood flow to the penis. In fact, ED is often one of the early signs of heart problems, according to Mayo Clinic.

One study found that sticking to a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and fish was associated with a lower risk of ED development and improvement in people who already suffered from ED. There is also some evidence that vegetarian and vegan diets may lower the risk of some types of heart disease, which in turn decreases the likelihood of developing ED.

Make sure you’re walking enough every day.

The most common cause of ED is arterial dysfunction, which is essentially when your blood vessels don't work as well as they should. Research has shown that consistent and regular physical activity - especially aerobic exercise like running, walking, and cycling - can help protect against vascular ED.

One study found that participants with cardiovascular problems who also reported having ED were able to significantly improve their erectile function by walking 30 minutes per day, three to four times a week.

Try out pelvic floor exercises to see if they work for you.

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Pelvic floor exercises, often called Kegels, have been shown to have some benefit when it comes to treating ED caused by pelvic muscle dysfunction. A study conducted in the UK found that 40% of 55 participants with ED regained normal erectile function after practicing pelvic floor exercises for six months.

You can practice contracting the muscles of the pelvic floor by stopping your flow of urine several times during urination. Once you become familiar with the sensation of contracting the correct muscles, you can try squeezing them throughout the day while standing or sitting

Swear off all nicotine products, not just cigarettes.

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If you're looking for one easy way to increase your chances of maintaining a strong erection, cutting out nicotine might be it. Research suggests that any product containing nicotine - including cigarettes, gum, chewing tobacco, and vapes - might decrease the strength of an erection.

A 2014 study found that dosing otherwise healthy participants with nicotine reduced the strength of their erections. Researchers concluded that this was because nicotine interfered with heart function and blood flow.

Another study discovered that nicotine significantly reduced participants' physical arousal in response to erotic films; the erections achieved by study participants who had ingested nicotine were 23% smaller than those who hadn't. This is in spite of the fact that participants didn't report feeling any less psychologically aroused by the erotic films.

Make sure your bike isn't causing damage to your groin.

A custom-built bike (Mercer)
A custom-built bike (Mercer)

If you're an avid cycler, you should make sure that your bicycle is equipped with the right kind of seat or saddle. Erectile dysfunction has been linked to frequent long-distance cycling and is thought to be caused by the compression of the blood vessels and nerves between the scrotum and anus.

Though the occasional bike ride is unlikely to cause lasting damage to your sexual function, it's a good idea to make sure your bike is outfitted with a saddle designed specifically to avoid putting undue pressure on the groin. Wearing padded cycling pants and taking frequent breaks are also good strategies.

Help your testosterone levels stay healthy over time.

Testosterone levels generally decrease as an individual ages. This is normal and natural, but it can lead to erectile problems for some people because androgenic hormones such as testosterone play an important part in regulating the function of tissues in the penis and testicles. One study found that supplementing with testosterone gel improved both the libido and erectile function of participants with low testosterone between the ages of 32 and 84.

Just because your testosterone levels were at healthy levels a few years ago doesn't mean that they haven't decreased since your last check-up. If you're experiencing ED, it's worth scheduling an appointment with your doctor to find out if your hormone levels might be the culprit.

Don't use anabolic steroids.

Pills on blue background

Erectile dysfunction can sometimes be caused by an imbalance of hormones within the body, including testosterone. Testosterone helps regulate sexual function as well as the development of organs like the penis, prostate, and testicles.

Taking anabolic steroids - the kind sometimes used by bodybuilders and athletes to build muscle and improve performance - can interfere with the functioning of the testicles. Having testicles that aren't performing normally can cause low levels of testosterone, a condition which has been linked to decreased libido and erectile problems.

Get your stress levels under control.

Stressed man at work

Many people experience occasional erectile dysfunction when they're stressed or preoccupied. This is because stress increases levels of the hormone adrenaline, which actually causes blood vessels to contract. As having a firm erection depends upon a strong supply of blood to and within the penis, feeling chronically stressed can lead to repeated bouts of ED.

Making sure you have healthy ways of coping with stress is part of maintaining good sexual health. If necessary, you may want to look into consulting a medical professional about the best way to manage your emotions and keep your stress levels in check. One study found that participants with ED who underwent an eight-week stress management program emerged with significantly improved symptoms. It might also be a good idea to address any relationship issues that could be leading to anxiety in the bedroom.

Cut back on your alcohol consumption.

Research suggests that drinking alcohol may play a part in erectile problems. One study that considered the prevalence of ED among people diagnosed with alcohol dependence syndrome found that heavy drinkers were more likely to experience sexual dysfunction. Experts also believe that the depressant effect of alcohol can inhibit sexual response and even suppress libido in some people.

It's worth noting, however, that some studies have found no correlation between moderate alcohol consumption and ED, or have not been able to pinpoint a link between non-heavy drinking and sexual problems.

Maintain a healthy weight.

Scientists have found a consistent link between maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding erectile problems. In one Italian study, researchers followed 110 obese men experiencing ED over the course of two years. Of the participants that lost the most weight, 31% ceased to suffer from ED. In the group that lost the least weight, only 5% of the men saw an improvement.

Being overweight can also lead to type 2 diabetes, which may impact nerve function and lead to ED. However, it may be possible to reverse even this type of ED. When obese participants with diabetes type 2 in one study lost weight, researchers found that 22% of them reported symptom improvement.

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