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Maintaining good health by following a healthy lifestyle and managing medical conditions before they cause irreversible damage are the keys to getting a solid erection and maintaining it throughout life. Medications may be helpful for men with erectile dysfunction (ED), but the best long-term approach is to manage the causes of ED and not simply treat the symptoms. First, let’s understand how someone gets an erection. A series of chemical reactions in the blood vessels of the penis follows that results in 20 to 40 times the blood flow to the penis. An erection might last forever if it weren’t for chemicals in the body called phosphodiesterases. They work to reverse the erection process and return the penis to a flaccid state.
- The best long-term approach is to manage the causes of ED and not simply treat the symptoms.
- Exercise is the best way to strengthen your heart (and your erection). It increases stamina, strength, and flexibility.
- Major risk factors for ED include diabetes, heart disease, smoking, depression, and anxiety.
Usually, there is a balance between the chemicals that results in an erection lasting for as long as it is needed, allowing the phosphodiesterases to do their job when they should and no sooner.
Medications for erectile dysfunction block, or inhibit, the phosphodiesterases and let the forces giving a man an erection have the edge. The result is a firmer erection that lasts longer.
But what can people do to keep the quality erections they have or regain some of what may have been lost? One of the simplest and most underrated interventions people can make is to alter their lifestyles.
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So many things have to go right for you to achieve a strong erection. For starters, your hormones must be released on demand, your arteries need to carry blood to the penis with perfect efficiency, your nervous system must transmit its signals without a hitch, and your mind must be working in perfect harmony with your body. That’s a lot to ask, but there’s plenty you can do to help all of these systems come together.
Exercise is the best way to strengthen your heart (and your erection). It increases stamina, strength, and flexibility.
The average heart beats around 100,000 times per day, pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood throughout your body. Your heart pumps enough blood to fill an Olympic pool each year of your entire life.
For blood to fill the penis (i.e., achieve a firm erection), a tremendous increase in blood flow must occur. Basically, the stronger your heart is, and the cleaner your arteries are, the more blood you can pump with each beat for a longer period of time and with less effort.
But where should you start? Just walk! An underrated form of exercise is walking. Walking uses almost every bone and muscle in your body. A great—and achievable—goal is 10,000 steps per day.
Obesity is a primary risk factor for diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, certain cancers, gallstones, degenerative arthritis, and erectile dysfunction. It is also a risk factor for low testosterone. In one study, exercise and weight loss were associated with an improvement in sexual function for 1 in 3 men with obesity (Esposito, 2004).
Men who smoke are twice as likely to experience ED as non-smokers. Chiefly, this is because smoking damages your blood vessels. Even if your nervous system is functioning well, getting an erection still might be difficult if your blood vessels are damaged by smoking. However, quitting can improve your health immediately: Your chance of a cardiac event decreases, your blood pressure improves, and your circulation can improve, which is incredibly helpful in preventing ED.
Alcohol use has also been linked to ED in several studies (Benegal, 2007). In the short term, alcohol might improve anxiety around sexual activity. In the long run, chronic alcohol use or alcohol abuse can cause lasting liver damage, which can lead to low levels of testosterone and increased estrogen, both of which can lead to ED.
The value of sleep cannot be overstated. A lack of sleep increases your risk for a cardiac event, slows your metabolism, weakens your immune system, and diminishes cognitive abilities. It can also decrease your testosterone, which increases the likelihood of experiencing ED. Worse yet, a decrease in testosterone will most likely decrease your libido, affecting your overall sexual function.
Unchecked stress is associated with heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Being in a high-stress environment can affect the messages your brain sends to your body, which can affect your ability to achieve and maintain an erection.
There are many potential causes for stress-induced ED (e.g., nervousness and anxiety, professional stress, loss of a loved one, changes in health, and financial burden). It’s important for your overall (and sexual) health to manage your stress.
In conclusion, by staying physically and mentally healthy, you can go a long way toward maintaining your sexual health.