Physical health plays an important role in sexual health, especially for erectile functioning in men. Erectile dysfunction (ED) is linked to several of men’s physical health indicators, like weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Men who are overweight or obese may experience higher rates of ED than men who are not. So, should men focus on maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) to protect against or reduce their experience of ED? Maybe not.
This article explores why BMI as an indicator of health is flawed. Instead, waist circumference is presented as a superior alternative for monitoring one’s health.
Physical Health and Sexual Functioning
Men’s sexual functioning is incredibly complex, dependent upon many physical health factors. Commonly, erectile dysfunction is linked to poor circulation, so addressing any health issues related to circulatory health can go a long way to addressing ED. Medications like Viagra improve blood flow to the penis so men can get and keep erections, but addressing physical health issues should not be neglected.
Weight and BMI have long been thought to be some of the best indicators for people’s health, but there are now better ways to determine one’s health status and risk for diseases – metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of health conditions that, when combined, put people at higher risk of disease and ultimately an earlier death.
The conditions making up metabolic syndrome are:
- Abdominal obesity (Waist circumference of greater than 40 inches in men, and greater than 35 inches in women)
- Triglyceride level of 150 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) or greater
- HDL cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women
- Systolic blood pressure (top number) of 130 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or greater, or diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) of 85 mm Hg or greater
- Fasting glucose of 100 mg/dL or greater
A person who has at least three of the five conditions listed above is classified as having metabolic syndrome.
The Argument Against BMI as a Predictor of Health
Obesity is linked to ED, but weight and BMI are not explicitly represented among the conditions that make up metabolic syndrome. Instead, abdominal obesity, or waist circumference, is taken as a better indicator of health. But why is that the case?
BMI is measured by comparing a person’s weight to their height. It is a simple health measure, but shouldn’t be the only indicator of health. For instance, two men can weigh the same but one could be considered underweight and one could be considered obese depending on their height. BMI does not take into account other important factors like the amount of muscle you have. Bodybuilders, for example, will weigh a lot, but due to their muscle mass, not obesity. According to their BMI, however, they would be flagged as obese and considered to be living an unhealthy lifestyle.
Watching your Waist
A higher waist circumference, indicating greater visceral fat, is linked to erectile dysfunction. Storing fat in the body is normal and can be healthy, but where the fat is stored is important. Visceral fat in the abdomen, commonly referred to as belly fat, is associated with serious health issues, including ones that affect circulation, and therefore ED. Fortunately, doctors have identified areas to focus on to reduce waist circumference.
Waist circumference can be reduced by focusing on weight loss, which is determined by the ratio of calories taken in (through food) and calories burned (through physical activity). Therefore, maintaining a healthy diet balanced with fruits, vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates, combined with regular physical activity, is recommended to reduce belly fat and improve erectile health.
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Kwynn holds a Master of Public Health and is currently pursuing a PhD in Social Work. Her research examines the intersections of health, technology, and gender-based violence.