The causes of sexual problems aren’t always obvious.

One of the first concerns many men will have when it comes to erectile dysfunction is that there may be an underlying problem at its core.

Illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure can often go for long periods undiagnosed, and as such, impotence may be the first noticeable sign. Ruling out these potential causes is obviously important, and talking with your doctor about them is a vital first step.

In those cases where an underlying condition is not the cause, prescription treatment and alternative therapies are options many men turn to when trying to tackle ED. Some may even find talking about the issue with their partner, or their doctor, can help them to overcome it.

But what many people don’t consider when it comes to the condition are the changes they can make to their lifestyle habits.

Recently, pills such as Viagra and Cialis have become something of a snap reaction for men wanting to get firmer, longer lasting erectile potency. Their capacity to increase blood flow to the penis makes them an effective solution for those men who feel that they aren’t performing as well as they would like to.

Sometimes though, as comprehensive studies have shown, improving ED symptoms is as simple as making a few lifestyle adjustments.

Even those who are undergoing treatment for the condition could stand to gain from making these improvements to their everyday habits, as they may find that their medication becomes more effective as a result; and that they don’t need to use it as much, or are able to use a lower dose.

What’s more, taking measures to better your lifestyle won’t only reduce the likelihood of encountering impotence; it’ll improve your overall health as well.

Here are six non-medicinal changes you can make to your regular habits to help curb ED symptoms:

  1. Lower your alcohol intake
  2. Quit smoking
  3. Tackle stress
  4. Eat healthy
  5. Get some exercise
  6. Avoid recreational drug use

Lower Your Alcohol Intake

While it may help some men to relax and give them a confidence boost, alcohol is a known offender when it comes to erection problems.

One study carried out in India in 2007 assessed 100 men suffering from alcohol dependence; 72 of which reported experiencing one or more types of sexual dysfunction, with impotence being among the most common.

So why are heavy or chronic alcohol consumption and sexual dysfunction so closely linked?

Doctors have identified a number of reasons.

Firstly, alcohol can increase blood pressure, and cause atherosclerosis; in turn impeding blood flow to the penis and fuelling difficulties.

Secondly, the more alcohol a person consumes, the more damage they inflict upon their nervous system, making pleasure receptors in the body less responsive.

Another reason identified in a 2002 study carried out by Spanish scientists is that alcohol has a deleterious effect on testosterone production in males, thus inhibiting penile function.

Limiting the amount you drink, particularly before intercourse, can help to lower your chances of running into erectile problems. The NHS advises that men drink no more than 3 units (equivalent to a pint of lager or a large glass of wine) per day on a regular basis.

And while there may be occasions where a person drinks more than this, it’s a good idea not to overindulge too often. Giving the body a rest of at least 48 hours after a heavy session will allow it time to recover.

Quit Smoking

It’s no secret that smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and a major contributor to heart disease.

But for men, it can also affect performance in the bedroom too. Like alcohol consumption, smoking can interfere with vascular function and interrupt blood flow.

The harmful chemicals inhaled through cigarette smoke are numerous, and include arsenic, tar, and carbon monoxide. Ingesting toxins such as these obviously isn’t good for overall health.

But the chemicals in smoke can also inhibit the function of nitric oxide in the body, which is a crucial proponent in the relaxation of blood vessel muscle walls.

One investigation published in the British Journal of Urology in 2004 suggested that the more a man smokes, the worse their ED symptoms are likely to be; but also that a ‘considerable proportion’ of those who stopped smoking saw an improvement in symptoms.

So if the heart and respiratory health benefits are not enough to persuade someone who smokes to quit, maybe the prospect of improving sexual performance is.

Tackle Stress

For younger men in particular stress and feelings of anxiety can be a major contributing factor in erectile dysfunction.

And it might not always be related to pressure to perform.

Sometimes a heavy professional workload or other everyday issues can be a distraction and trigger symptoms, as well as increasing a person’s susceptibility to high blood pressure and other physical health problems.

If feelings of anxiety are severe enough to cause ED, then they're severe enough to warrant attention, or advice from a doctor.

Those under added pressure at work should talk to their employer if their workload is causing them undue stress. Getting enough time to rest after work and sufficiently recover before going in again is important too, as feelings of exhaustion can also make it harder to keep and maintain an erection.

Eat Healthy

You may by now be noticing the pattern that those lifestyle habits, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, which are bad for your heart and your blood pressure, are generally also contributing causes of erectile dysfunction.

Keeping a poor diet is another example of this. The higher your food intake is in saturated fats, the tighter and more congested your arteries are going to be, and the more likely it is that you’ll experience problems with blood flow.

Improving your diet can help exponentially.

Research undertaken by scientists at Seconda Università degli Studi di Napoli found that ED was less prominent in men who ate a ‘Mediterranean diet’, rich in nuts, whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables, than it was in those who ate red and processed meats, or modified grains.

So for those who find that erectile issues are presenting a problem, dietary habits is an area which bears consideration.

Get Some Exercise

Leading a sedentary lifestyle is an oft-cited factor in erectile dysfunction.

Those who don’t exercise at all are of course more prone to health issues such as hypertension and circulation problems.

A study published in the Ethiopian Journal of Science in 2011 assessed a selection of experiments, with the intention of determining whether or not aerobic exercise improved erectile dysfunction symptoms.

It found that those men who had atherogenic ED (as in an instance of the condition caused by poor circulatory health) benefited, seeing a reduction in symptoms when they performed aerobic training.

Staying in shape to lower the risk of erectile problems doesn’t mean spending hours at the gym.

Doctors usually recommend that around two and a half hours per week of moderate cardiovascular exercise can be enough to make a noticeable difference to a person’s overall health. When you break it down, that’s just half an hour a day, with two days off.

Considering the health benefits besides improved erectile function which a programme of light exercise also offers, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Avoid Recreational Drug Use

The list of medications of which erectile dysfunction is a possible side effect is a long one.

When prescribing treatment for a chronic or acute condition, a doctor will always weigh up the risks and benefits; and if you begin to encounter symptoms, or find that they get worse while using a medicine, you should let your doctor know. They may be able to suggest an alternative.

Using drugs recreationally is obviously a bad habit to get into when you consider the effects on well-being as a whole. Physical and psychological crashes or ‘come-downs’ which can last for days after use, as well as the long-term health implications and the prospect of addiction, are considerable dangers which many people are aware of.

But recreational drug use can significantly increase the risk of impotence.

One study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2009 found that heroin, methamphetamine and MDMA in particular were risky offenders, causing ED symptoms in nearly 40 per cent of users.

Talking to a GP is the first step to overcoming addiction and other drug-related problems. For those who don’t feel comfortable approaching their doctor, a number of self-referral services are available too.

You can find more information on getting confidential help and advice at the Frank website.

What you can do

The occasional case of erectile dysfunction is something which most, if not all men will encounter at some point in their lives.

The fact that over 23 million men worldwide have reportedly been prescribed ED drugs such as Viagra is a testament to this.

In many cases, it may not be the result of a health issue, and may not even warrant medical attention. Sometimes, making one or more of the above lifestyle changes may be all that is needed to bring symptoms under control.

But remember that persistent or severe cases may be indicative of a more significant health issue. If erectile dysfunction is causing you concern, your GP will be able to offer you help and guidance.

Is there a cure?

Erectile dysfunction is not something you can get rid of indefinitely.

Even pills and other purchased treatments will not permanently eradicate symptoms. The worse your lifestyle habits are, the more likely it is that erectile problems will persist.

So no matter what is causing your ED, and whether or not you intend to buy prescription medication, addressing and correcting those contributory lifestyle habits is where treatment should begin.