Exercise can help treat erectile dysfunction

How exercise benefits our circulation?


What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction can be defined as the inability to achieve or maintain a penile erection long enough and of sufficient quality to have satisfactory sexual intercourse.

Causes of erectile dysfunction

Healthy erectile function is reliant on the combination of the following factors:

  • Sexual arousal - the brain sends nerve impulses to the penis 
  • Nerve stimulation - this causes increased blood flow to the penis
  • Blood flow - the increased blood flow will enable the erection by filling the chambers of the penis and making it hard

Any disruption of the factors which enable an erection to happen will result in the failure of an erection. If this continues to happen erectile dysfunction will be the result.

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Effectively, achieving a healthy erection is dependent on good mental and emotional health (phase one), a healthy nervous system (phase 2) and good cardiovascular health (phase 3). Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to benefit emotional, nervous and circulatory health and so we would expect it to be an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction.

Exercise and mental health

Physical exercise has a positive effect on mental health; it can improve a person’s self-esteem and cognitive function as well as reduce the levels of anxiety, depression and negativity.  Aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, gardening, dancing and cycling can all have positive effects on a person's mental health.

Exercise and the health of the nervous system

Aerobic exercise is considered to be beneficial to the nervous system; it has the potential to improve cognitive ability. Studies on animals have shown that exercise can help to preserve neuronal tissue (neurons are cells from which nerves are constructed), stimulate neurogenesis (development of new neurons in the brain) and increase the levels of vascularisation (blood supply) in the brain.

Exercise and the health of the cardiovascular system

Exercise has many positive benefits for the heart and vascular system. It can help to maintain a healthy body weight, it can reduce blood pressure, reduces risk of developing diabetes and reduces inflammation in the body. Erectile dysfunction is directly linked to blood supply in the pelvic area. Exercise, aerobic exercise in particular promotes the health of the vascular system (blood vessels) ensuring a good supply of blood to all areas of the body including the pelvic area. If poor vascular health is one of the causes of erectile dysfunction, exercise will undoubtedly help.

Which type of exercise is best for treating erectile dysfunction?

We have already covered the benefits of aerobic exercise when treating erectile dysfunction but studies have shown that pelvic floor exercises can also be beneficial.  Women have been using pelvic floor exercises to prepare for childbirth and regain muscle tone afterwards. The exercises also help with urinary continence and sexual health and have now been found to also benefit men with erectile dysfunction.

Pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises)

In particular, pelvic floor exercises can help to strengthen the bulbocavernosus muscle. This is an important muscle because it does three jobs:

  • It allows the penis to engorge with blood during an erection
  • It pumps during erection 
  • It empties the urethra at the end of urination

Locating the pelvic floor muscles is most easily done by stopping urinating mid flow. The muscles that you use to do this are pelvic floor muscles. To perform basic pelvic floor exercises, squeeze the muscles which you have located and hold for five to ten seconds then release. Repeat this between ten and twenty times, three times per day.

It is important not to hold your breath and keep the muscles of the buttock, stomach and thighs relaxed while you perform these exercises.

Another way to perform pelvic floor exercises is to squeeze the muscles of the anus as if you are preventing a bowel movement. This activates the same muscles as those that prevent urination.

Other benefits of these exercises (also known as Kegels) include:

  • Reduction in urinary or bowel incontinence
  • Stops dribbling after urination
  • Improves sexual performance

It has been shown that both aerobic and pelvic floor exercise is beneficial in treating erectile dysfunction and so a combination of both types of exercise is likely to have the most effect.

Exercise is a great place to start when treating erectile dysfunction and it has many health benefits associated with it. Some health conditions such as heart disease prevent a person from taking drugs such as sildenafil (Viagra) and regular exercise is recommended as a way to strengthen the cardiovascular system.

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