As you’ll read elsewhere on this site, there are a number of factors that can contribute towards erectile dysfunction. Poor diet and lack of exercise are just two, and both of these can be related to poor vascular function (a well-documented precursor to erectile problems).
So invariably, those who are a little out of shape and are experiencing ED will be advised to exercise more; not just to improve their sex lives, but their overall health too.
A popular option for newcomers to ease themselves in at the gym is the exercise bike. But investing in a push bike and touring the local country roads is a favourite too. It’s a good cardio workout, and as a low impact exercise it tends to be much kinder on the joints than running.
However, something of a consensus has developed over previous years that cycling can actually exacerbate erectile dysfunction, or even induce it. And from a logical perspective, it sounds plausible enough. It seems feasible to many of us that a bicycle saddle could apply pressure to the groin and inhibit blood flow in the perineal area, thus making erections more difficult.
So for men with impotence, does cycling do more harm than good?
We thought we’d take a closer look at the issue this week, to see what links have been established, and whether men with ED should limit riding time or even avoid it altogether.
One of the earliest investigations we found on the subject was undertaken in 1987. The research found that habitually riding a ‘stationary’ bicycle resulted in ‘tight sensations’ in the penis, and progressively lowered potency. When exercise was stopped, a return in normal potency occurred a month afterwards.
The study seemingly only used one individual as a test subject however, and as such was unable to identify a definite or common link.
A later investigation undertaken in Trondheim used a much larger test pool. This looked at 160 respondents cycling a distance of 330 mile:
- 33 of these (21%) said they felt a loss of sensation or other symptoms in the pudendal region;
- and for 10 of these, problems persisted for 7 days or more.
- 21 experienced erectile problems, with 11 of these having issues enduring in excess of 7 days.
- For three of these, symptoms of impotence continued for over four weeks.
However, a German study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine in 2001 identified a more significant link:
- 70 percent of the 40 men taking part displayed a drop in blood flow to the penis (measured via an electrode placed on the glands) while cycling.
- 19 percent who cycled further than 250 miles on a weekly basis reported ED.
A study with a much larger pool of respondents was undertaken by London researchers in 2013. This involved over 5,000 men cycling for different durations, and measured ED in addition to other health measures which included infertility and prostate cancer.
It found no link between cycling duration and erectile dysfunction or infertility (but did identify a link to higher prostate cancer risk).
The study did point out that its large test pool was interviewed via internet correspondence, which they identified as a notable limitation. Researchers were therefore unable to physically assess the condition of patients in person.
According to some studies, seat shape is a significant determining factor in whether ED problems manifest in male cyclers.
Researchers in Cologne, observing 20 younger men, found that seats with ‘no nose’ and a wider saddle were much less restrictive on oxygen pressure in the penis than those that were narrower (retaining oxygen pressure is crucial in maintaining erectile capacity). Using a measuring device the researchers were able to determine that a narrow seat caused a drop in pressure of over 80 percent; whereas a wider alternative caused a drop of just over 20 percent.
Cycling with a reclined posture has also been cited by another study from Cologne scientists as having less of a deleterious effect on penile oxygen pressure than doing so in a rigid vertical posture. While cycling in a vertical position caused pressure to drop to around a third of what it was before commencing exercise, in those who reclined, it stayed at a level almost the same.
Should cycling be avoided?
In summary, cycling is a much better option for those with ED than inactivity. As we’ve discussed, it provides a comprehensive cardiovascular workout, and aids overall blood flow.
It might not be the most ideal exercise for some men with ED, but surely more studies are needed before it can be discounted as being a commonly exacerbating factor.
That said, for those who are susceptible to erectile problems, the studies we do have perhaps suggest that we should take a couple of measures into account when choosing to go cycling:
- opt for a bike or a training machine with a more forgiving shape, which distributes weight more evenly around the posterior (as opposed to just the perineal area) and allows you to recline safely
- and if you begin to notice symptoms, particularly after cycling long distances, either limit the amount you do, or choose an alternative workout routine.