Although the incidence of erection problems is far greater among older men, impotence is by no means an inevitable consequence of aging. For most men, a healthy lifestyle can preserve erectile function well into their golden years.
However, live an unhealthy life, and you may well begin experiencing erection problems at a relatively early age. For those who have not yet begun to suffer from the symptoms of impotence or have only experienced occasional difficulties in the bedroom, changing your ways may allow you to head off trouble before irreparable damage has been done. And what better time than the start of a new year to assess your lifestyle and resolve to clean up your act.
Focus on Cardiovascular Health
As you may have heard, there’s a very close connection between cardiovascular health and erectile function, so adopting healthy habits sooner rather than later offers the added bonus of keeping the threat of heart attack and stroke at bay.
If there can be said to be a bright side to erection problems, that positive note would have to be that they provide an early warning sign that even more serious vascular problems may lie ahead. Because the blood vessels supplying the penis are roughly one-third smaller in diameter than the arteries feeding the brain and heart, erection problems almost invariably show up first. Take heed and give up some of the unhealthy habits that may have caused your vascular problems and you may well be able to head off potentially devastating health consequences down the road.
Eat a Healthy Diet
A good place to get started is with your diet. If your diet consists of large amounts of fried, fatty, or processed foods, you’re headed down the wrong road. Fast food may be a handy way to get a meal when you’re pressed for time, but it’s not a way of eating that can be sustained for any length of time without serious ill effects.
Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and heart-healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts. These foods are the basic foundations of the so-called Mediterranean diet, which is good for your cardiovascular system and hence your erectile function as well.
Irwin Goldstein, M.D., director of sexual medicine at San Diego’s Alvarado Hospital, tells WebMD.com that ¨the link between the Mediterranean diet and improved sexual function has been scientifically established.¨
A regular regimen of physical activity can also go a long way toward preserving erectile function and improving your overall health. Madeline Vann, a writer for EverydayHealth.com, reports that research has demonstrated that even limited physical activity — such as walking for 30 minutes a day a few times each week — can lower the risk of erection problems.
Regular exercise, according to Vann, tends to improve the way the endothelium that lines your blood vessels works. And improvements in the function of the endothelium help to ensure smoother and stronger blood flow to the penis, as well as your heart and brain.
Pick Activities You Enjoy
In order to set up an exercise program that you’re more likely to stick with, Vann suggests choosing physical activities that you enjoy. She also recommends a combination of aerobic exercise, such as biking, walking, or swimming, with a regular routine of resistance training, which also has been shown to improve endothelial function.
If you’ve been a couch potato for quite some time, check with your doctor before embarking on an ambitious program of physical activity. He or she can provide guidelines that ensure you’re not overdoing it and that you’ve set realistic exercise goals.
Most smokers know instinctively that smoking is hazardous to their health. Yet the habit has them so firmly in its grasp (as it once had this writer) that they find it hard to break free. Numerous studies have shown that over time smoking can damage blood vessels and thus hinder normal blood flow.
In a September 2011 posting at Time.com, writer Maia Szalavitz reported on a research study that ¨found that men who successfully kicked cigarettes had thicker, more rigid erections and reached maximal arousal five times faster than smokers who relapsed.¨
Test subjects for the study were 65 sexually active male smokers who wanted to kick the habit and didn’t mind having their erections scientifically measured to gauge changes. The erections of participants were measured before the quit date, midway through the program, and then one month after the conclusion of the program. Nicotine patches were used during the eight-week quit program.
Just under one-third of the test subjects had quit smoking by the end of the program, and all showed significant improvement in the quality of their erections as well as a reduction in arousal time. These improvements didn’t show up, however, until the men had stopped using the nicotine patches, which indicates nicotine itself can degrade erectile function.
If you’re carrying around more weight than you should be, now is a good time to try to drop those excess pounds. Eating a healthier diet should help. If you’re extremely overweight or obese, losing weight can improve your overall health dramatically and in the process help to improve your erectile function.
The Harvard Men’s Health Watch newsletter in March 2011 reported that better erections are just one of the reasons to shed those excess pounds. It noted that obesity lowers testosterone levels, which can have a negative effect on heart health and muscle function, and it also is closely linked to low sperm counts and reduced sperm motility, adversely affecting male fertility. Men who are obese are also more likely to suffer from kidney stones; benign prostatic hyperplasia, a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland; and prostate cancer.
Drink in Moderation
Having an occasional alcoholic drink isn’t really a problem and, in fact, may be conducive to setting the mood for romance. Actually, a glass of red wine now and then may be beneficial to your overall health and is a regular part of the much-touted Mediterranean diet that has helped to keep most male residents of the Mediterranean basin virile and sexually active well into old age.
It’s important, however, that you avoid drinking too much, which can spoil all the fun. Overindulging in alcohol may make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to get and keep an erection. And your senses may be so dulled that the pleasure of the moment cannot be fully appreciated even if you are lucky enough to get it up.
Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of nutrition and health-related topics.
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