Most men with erectile dysfunction seek treatment with a prescription medication such as sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), or vardenafil (Levitra). But is medication really necessary? Are there are other methods for conquering erectile dysfunction that do not involve popping a pill?
Exercise can be a great first step. Basic Kegel exercises, aerobic exercises, strength exercises, and deep breathing exercises can provide significant improvement for some men.
It is a well-known fact that Kegel exercises (or pelvic floor exercises) can help women regain muscle tone after childbirth. Kegel exercises can also help with urinary and bowel incontinence. But a much lesser-known fact is that Kegel exercises can also help with erectile dysfunction. These exercises affect the bulbocavernosus muscle, a muscle which encircles the base of the penis and keeps it engorged with blood during erection. Many claim that Kegel exercises also help improve the overall sexual experience.
To perform a repetition of basic Kegel exercises, hold the pelvic floor muscles for 5 seconds, then relax. Repeat 10-20 times, two or three times per day. Try to avoid holding your breath, tightening your abdominal or thigh muscles, or tensing your buttocks. If you can’t complete a full set of 10 exercises, just do what you can and work up to more gradually. If you are unsure where your pelvic floor muscles are located, try to stop your stream of urine during urination. The muscles that you clench are your pelvic floor muscles.
The great thing about Kegel exercises is that they can be performed anywhere at any time. You can do them while watching television or driving a car. Some people make a habit of doing them during a routine activity such as checking email or waiting at a stoplight.
There is good scientific evidence that Kegel exercises really do work. A study of 55 men with ED published in BJU International found that pelvic floor exercises helped 40 percent of men regain normal erectile function. An additional 33.5 percent had significantly improved erectile function. Those men who did not improved generally had other comorbidities – for example, cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and excessive alcohol intake. Younger men improved more than older men. The authors concluded that pelvic floor exercises should be considered as a first-line approach for men seeking long-term resolution of erectile dysfunction.
Aerobic exercise may also be effective in combating erectile dysfunction. Aerobic exercise improves your overall cardiovascular health, which increases the flow of blood to the penis. In addition, it has been demonstrated that aerobic exercise makes the body more responsive to insulin. Insulin is one of the body’s natural stimulants of nitric oxide (NO), the body chemical most responsible for healthy erections. Additional benefits of a regular aerobic exercise program include increased energy, reduced stress levels, improvements in anxiety and depression, better self-esteem, improvements in sleep, and weight loss – all of which can improve sexual performance.
Depending on your health and your doctor’s recommendation, there are many types of aerobic exercises that can be attempted. Some of these include running on a treadmill, swimming, rowing, elliptical machines, and cross-country skiing. Yoga and dancing can also be considered aerobic exercises. Even brisk walking 30 minutes a day, three to four times per week, may be enough to improve your erectile dysfunction and impact your cardiovascular health.
A study published in 2014 in American Journal of Cardiology compared a home-based outdoor walking program with customary care among 86 men with erectile dysfunction and a recent myocardial infarction. After 30 days, incidents of ED increased by 9% in the control group, but decreased by 71% in the home-based walking group.
In a ground-breaking study published in JAMA in 2004, researchers from Naples, Italy studied the effects of lifestyle changes on erectile dysfunction. They examined a group of 110 obese but otherwise healthy men aged 35-55, all with some degree of erectile dysfunction. Half of the men were given specific individualized advice about reducing their body weight through healthy food choices and by increasing physical activity (mainly walking, but also swimming and aerobic games); the other half were given general information but no specific individualized advice. After 2 years, the men given individualized advice had significant decreases in body weight and BMI, as well as a significant improvement in erectile dysfunction. About a third of the men in this group were no longer considered to have erectile dysfunction. There were no significant changes in these parameters among men in the control group. The researchers concluded that lifestyle changes are a safe and effective strategy for improving erectile function.
Using weights and participating in resistance training can also benefit men with erectile dysfunction, especially when low testosterone levels are present. The more muscle a person has, the more testosterone the body produces. The most effective strength exercises (sometimes referred to as “the big four”) are the squat, the deadlift, the bench press, and the shoulder press. Fancy equipment is not necessary – a simple set of weights is just fine. Focus on raising and lowering the weights in a controlled manner, pausing for a one-second count at the top of the lift.
When erectile dysfunction is caused by high stress levels or anticipatory anxiety – that is, being nervous or fearing rejection from a partner – basic breathing exercises can also be effective.
It has been known for many years that deep breathing can affect the functioning of the central nervous system. Studies have shown that rhythmic breathing can control the heart rate, slow the respiratory rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease oxygen consumption. Small studies have also shown that deep breathing can benefit erectile dysfunction.
Basic deep breathing exercises are very simple. Find a quiet area that is free of disruptions.
Assume a comfortable body position and take a series of long deep breaths. Count to five slowly as you inhale, then count to five slowly as you exhale. Focus on breathing into the abdomen, filling the abdomen with air and then letting it deflate like a balloon. Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.
A more advanced breathing exercise is known as visualized breathing. This technique involves combining the basic breathing technique described above with imagination. You should close your eyes and try to imagine relaxation entering your body and tension leaving your body. You might want to imagine that your limbs become looser (like spaghetti) with each exhale. You might also imagine that your hands and feet are getting warmer.
For each of these techniques, you should avoid practicing when you are sleepy or after you have eaten a heavy meal. You should also avoid using drugs, tobacco, or alcohol. As with Kegel exercises, it may be possible to practice deep breathing while doing other routine activities, such as commuting to work on a bus or train, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or mowing the lawn.
Are There Risks Associated with Exercise?
Possibly the greatest risk associated with exercise is overindulgence. Too much exercise can actually have a detrimental effect on the body. It can lead to injuries, exhaustion, depression, and even suicide. Your adrenal gland, which produces cortisol and other hormones as you exercise, can only produce so much at a time. (This is one of the reasons that some endurance athletes take synthetic hormones.) In addition, many health care professionals believe that testosterone levels plummet after one hour of strenuous exercise and that it takes roughly 5 days for levels to return to normal.
Therefore, the focus of an exercise program for erectile dysfunction should always be on the frequency of exercise rather than on the duration or intensity of exercise.
Exercise can certainly be an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction. It is basically safe and can have many other benefits, including improvements in cardiovascular health and reduction in disease risks. For men who are new to exercise or have not exercised in a while, a personal trainer or fitness professional may be helpful. A personal trainer can create a specific exercise plan based on your unique physical condition and medical history. He can also teach you the correct way to perform each exercise movement.
Source: BJU International
Source: American Journal of Cardiology