Celebrate Men’s Health Month
June is Men’s Health Month, and it’s a necessary one. A study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic found that 72% of us would rather mow the lawn than see a doctor. The same survey said 20% weren’t entirely honest with their doctor, from a wide variety of reasons including shame, fear, and embarrassment. It’s time to set that aside.
Sexual Health is Physical Health
Here are the facts on erectile dysfunction (ED):
- Roughly 18 million men over 20 have ED.
- 80% of ED cases are related to your physical health.
- While ED incidence increases with age, any man can get ED for a wide variety of reasons.
- ED is not a reflection of your manhood, something to be ashamed about, or something your doctor doesn’t need to know. It’s a health issue, period.
Your sexual health and your physical health are closely tied together. Erectile dysfunction is less often a disease by itself, and more often a symptom of cardiovascular concerns, diabetes, or other serious problems.
It can also be a reflection of your emotional health. Roughly 10% of ED cases are emotional or psychological, caused by anxiety, stress, depression, or relationship concerns. In other cases, it may be a side effect of vital medications. Regardless, if your sexual health lags, it can wear on your emotional well-being. Supporting our physical health and emotional health means supporting our sexual health, and often ED is addressed through a combination of approaches including lifestyle changes, emotional support, and medications.
We’ve all heard it, yet it bears repeating: Eat right, get exercise, and manage your stress levels. They’re good for you overall, but they’re also good for your love life. A quick review of the basics.
Exercise: ED is often co-morbid, e.g. simultaneously present with heart disease and other cardiovascular concerns.
Cardiovascular disease could be a topic for men’s health in of itself, but it generally is aggravated by a few specific lifestyle issues:
- Sedentary lifestyle.
- High blood pressure.
One review of studies of men that got active for 160 minutes a week, usually in periods of 40 minutes for four days a week, found a substantial drop in vascular ED. Spending a half hour per day doing cardio will do a lot for your sexual health.
Diet: We are what we eat, but first, set aside guilt. Your health is not about the burgers of the past, but the food of the future. Eating right can help with ED. Add more lean proteins, like chicken and fish, and leafy greens and other vegetables to your diet. Limit sugary, fatty foods to an occasional treat. Talk to your doctor and get a referral for a nutritionist.
Stress: The good news is that eating well and getting some exercise are part of stress management, so consider those two-for-one deals. Beyond that, stress management techniques have shown promise for helping with erectile dysfunction, including:
- Setting aside time in the day for yourself and to step away from your desk.
- Staying connected with friends and family.
- Meditation or awareness techniques.
Don’t forget, all of this is a long game. Work on building small habits, like eating a salad with lean protein once a week for lunch, and then expanding on that as you get used to it. Use those small habits to build larger ones.
Emotional health is another tricky topic in men’s health. Psychologists have known for decades that men are less likely to seek mental health services, although just why, and what changes this habit, is still a topic for debate.
People can go for years, even decades, without realizing there’s a mental health issue they need to address. ED can add to this problem with feelings of shame, inadequacy, and anger. It’s not uncommon for a “negative feedback loop” to form. ED is caused by a physical issue, and the ensuing emotional reaction aggravates that issue. Emotional support is key to breaking that loop.
Men should consider taking the time to see a therapist. Having an objective, non-judgmental expert to talk to can help even with minor problems, and the increasing availability of emotional support via telehealth makes it easier than ever.
If you’re not sure where to start, speak to your doctor and request a referral.
All of what we’ve discussed is for the long term. In the short term, doctors use medication as part of their approach to ED. Some common sexual health medications for men include:
- Viagra (sildenafil)
- Cialis (tadalafil)
- Levitra (vardenafil)
There’s a robust telehealth infrastructure behind these drugs, in part because many men prefer privacy when discussing these issues. As a result, these can be prescribed by filling out a brief questionnaire and a phone consult with a doctor.
Dan is a long-time freelance writer focusing on technology, science, health, and medicine, with a lifelong interest in physics, biology, and medicine. His work has taken a particular focus on scientific studies “beyond the headlines,” reading the study to more closely examine the results.