Erectile dysfunction is a complex condition which involves several parts of the body, including the nerves, blood vessels, the brain, the heart, hormones and muscles. All of these must work together to make an erection possible

Several studies show that one proven way to protect the ability to become erect is to look after the body overall. Not only will you protect against ED, but a plethora of other health conditions too. 

On this page, we’ll discuss a variety of lifestyle factors which can hinder the ability to achieve an erection and how to ensure you make healthier (erection-friendly) lifestyle choices. 

Exercise more

Exercise is a proven way to be in better overall health, and can potentially help us live longer lives. But exercise can also be of benefit for erection problems. 

As a minimum, the NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week - this can include something as simple as walking. Alternatively, you can replace this with 75 minutes of more rigorous exercise (like running or riding a bike). This should be done in conjunction with strength exercises, which can be done at home. 

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the chances of developing coronary heart disease and stroke by 35%, and type 2 diabetes by half. All three of these conditions are leading causes of erectile dysfunction. 

Exercise is good for circulation and blood flow, which is of paramount importance when it comes to erections. 

But exercise isn’t just beneficial physically. It’s good for the mind too. Exercise has been shown to drastically reduce the chances of developing certain health conditions like depression. Of psychological conditions, depression is a common cause of ED.

Drink less (alcohol) 

Alcohol can provide us with a confidence boost, but going it alone is a small price to pay when we consider the overarching evidence against alcohol consumption. Emerging evidence shows that no amount of drinking can be considered ‘safe’, but there are ‘low-risk’ limits - which are defined as 14 units of alcohol per week. 

Some assert that moderate drinking, particularly the consumption of red wine, is of benefit to the heart and circulation. But studies on this seem to contradict each other.

Limiting alcohol consumption will help to protect against a number of health conditions, not least erectile dysfunction. But why exactly does drinking alcohol cause ED? 

It is well understood that the immediate effects of drinking may increase sexual inhibitions but decrease function, because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Furthermore, drinking can decrease sensation and detract from the pleasure of sex. 

Chronic drinking, or alcohol misuse, which is sustained over several years (long-term alcohol consumption) is thought to be a leading cause of ED. Drinking can also lead to a number of more serious health conditions, like cardiovascular disease, of which ED can be a symptom. 

Eat Well

Eating a balanced and nutritionally rich-diet is also said to be good for ED, and can reduce the likelihood of it developing later in life. (And a number of other conditions too). 

This will include eating a varied amount of fruits and vegetables. We should also eat an equal proportion of starchy carbohydrates. Opt for carbohydrates which are whole grain and high in fibre. We should also have some dairy, or dairy alternatives, aim to eat reduced fat options. We also need to consume some sources of protein, like beans, pulses, fish, eggs and meat. Lastly, eat a small amount of unsaturated oils and spreads.

As a minimum, eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day (in roughly 80g portions). Consume plenty of water and fluids - ideally around two litres per day. 

Our bodies are complex and have several thousand individual functions. Everything we do, whether we’re consciously aware or not, requires energy and certain vitamins and nutrients. This is why it’s important to have a varied diet. 

Keeping an eye on how much you weigh is important too. People who are overweight or obese can also devlop erection problems, or a condition that may lead to ED like diabetes. 

Even if a person eats a balanced diet, they will still gain weight if they consume more calories than they burn. It’s important to keep track of how much energy we consume, and how much we burn. 

This can be done using a BMR calculator. This tells you the number of calories you would burn at rest per day. You burn more during the time you’re active, so by tracking your active calories, you can work out how many you need to eat per day to stay the same weight. 

Don’t Smoke

People of a certain generation would hardly believe that smoking was once something some doctors and dentists used to recommend. This shows the vast medical strides that have been made since, and the sharp uptake in awareness and education surrounding the dangers that come with smoking. 

Cigarettes contain tens of thousands of chemicals, some of which are harmful in different ways. Some of these chemicals can cause the blood vessels to constrict or narrow, or even become irreparably damaged, which can impede the ability to achieve an erection. (Because erections are dependent on blood travelling into the arteries in the penis successfully). 

However, the effects of smoking on erectile dysfunction aren’t always permanent. Cessation can help to improve overall vascular health, which may benefit sexual ability too. This is all dependent on age, years spent smoking and the rate at which the person smoked (how many a day). 

Stress and relationships

Stress might not initially sound like a ‘lifestyle choice’, but how we deal with stress can be. We can also avoid certain stressful situations. 

Some amount of stress can be a driving force, but too much can certainly be detrimental and lead to more severe mental health conditions. 

Stress can take the form of several symptoms. Physical symptoms of stress can include headaches, dizziness, muscle tension or pain, stomach problems, chest pain, tightness or increased heart rate and sexual issues (Like ED). 

Mentally, stress can detract from the ability to properly concentrate, impede on the ability to make decisions, and make people feel overwhelmed, worried or forgetful. 

Lastly, it can also bring about general changes to normal behaviour - it can make people feel irritable, erratic or snappy, make them tired or have trouble sleeping, cause appetite changes, cause them to avoid certain people or places and lead them to drink or smoke more. 

All of these things can lead to certain physical health conditions, like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke or diabetes - all of which can affect erections. 

But stress can also lead to mental conditions like depression and anxiety, which can also cause erectile dysfunction. This is why it is paramount to address stress if you think it’s affecting your everyday life, and speak to a doctor. If visiting a GP in person isn’t convenient, you can consult with a real medical professional via. video consultation using our service Treated.com/Live. 

Sleep

We probably all wish we could live on less sleep sometimes. But sleep is one of the most important things our bodies need, for a number of reasons. 

It is said that roughly 1 in 3 of us are affected with poor sleep, which can lead to mood and behavioural changes the following day. This can include irritability, difficulty concentrating, lack of focus, feeling grumpy and a reduced work ethic. 

But sleepless nights which are maintained over long periods of time may also increase the risks of more serious, long-term conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. The medical consensus is that sleep is both essential and fundamental. 

Research suggests that a lack of sleep and insomnia can contribute toward a reduced sex drive, without which erections are not possible. 

Recreational Drugs 

There are many types of prescription medications that can cause erection problems, and it would be difficult to list them all. 

Doctors will always assess the risks to your physical and mental health when prescribing a treatment. If you do encounter side effects then alternative treatments are something which can be discussed depending on the condition and the severity of the side effects. 

But taking drugs recreationally can lead to significant health problems, both long and short term. It is safer to avoid these types of drugs all together. 

Recreational drug use significantly increases the chances of developing erectile dysfunction. Some recreational drugs, like cocaine, amphetamine and MDMA can impact the vascular system, causing the vessels and arteries to become constricted. This is partially why some men experience a short-term inability to get an erection while on these drugs. 

However, sustained recreational drug misuse can also increase the chances of developing a number of other health conditions, some of which may sharply increase the risks of developing erection problems. 

However, it’s important to keep in mind that drug addiction can stem from, or be a symptom of, poor mental health. It’s vital that people with drug problems feel comfortable seeking help, and addressing those mental health factors. Seeing your GP is a great place to start.

Page last reviewed:  28/07/2020