If you’re not satisfied with the quality of your erections, you could be suffering from an erectile disorder. But don’t worry, there are plenty of things you can do to manage symptoms or treat a disorder and return to healthy erections.
When you’re sexually aroused, sensory nerves in the brain begin to fire. Your brain and local nerves then signal the muscles in the shaft of the penis, instructing them to relax. This in turn increases blood flow, and creates pressure within the penis, causing it to expand and become erect. Conversely, an erection subsides when the muscles in the penis contract and blood flows back out of the organ. The whole process is governed by important chemicals in the body and brain, namely nitric oxide and phosphodiesterase. Nitric oxide signals the muscles in the blood vessels to relax and widen whilst phosphodiesterase inhibits an erection.
Erectile dysfunction (ED), describes the inability to get or maintain an erection. Common factors contributing to ED include psychological (e.g. depression, anxiety), neurological (e.g. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease), and cardiovascular factors (e.g. atherosclerosis, high blood pressure). The condition is more common in smokers, diabetics and individuals who are overweight. Certain medications, smoking, and heavy alcohol consumption are also associated with ED.
Medications to treat erectile dysfunction include Viagra, Cialis, Levitra and several generic versions of these medications. All of these medications act by blocking phosphodiesterase, leading to firmer and longer-lasting erections.
Erectile dissatisfaction is often confused for a more serious dysfunction, but they are not the same. Men who suffer from erectile dissatisfaction may find it harder to keep an erection; they could be disrupted more easily by noises or distracting thoughts. Alternatively, they may find that they can no longer become erect by mental stimulation but need hands-on help. This tends to be a natural process that often occurs in men over the age of 50, but psychological factors such as anxiety and depression, may exacerbate erectile dissatisfaction in younger men as well.
Before you jump to conclusions or rush off to the pharmacy, there are lifestyle changes that have been scientifically proven to correct erectile dysfunction.
According to research by the American Urological Association, men who sleep badly are more likely to have erectile dysfunction. Researchers found that with decreased sleep quality, erectile dysfunction increased. There may be several reasons for this, including a decline in testosterone levels. Chronic sleep disruptions are also linked to other chornic health issues and may increase the risk of stroke and heart disease.
If you’re experiencing sleep issues, you can try a few things to get a good night’s rest. First, ensure that your bedroom is dark and quiet. Meditation before bedtime has been shown to promote rest and a sense of calm. It’s also a good idea to avoid caffeine or alcohol before bed. They are known diuretics and you may find yourself waking up in the middle of the night to urinate.
Obesity and diabetes are known risk factors for erectile dysfunction. The majority (79%) of men with erectile disorders have a BMI of 25 or higher, and eight million cases of erectile dysfunction in the US are linked to obesity and diabetes. An increase in BMI can lead to a decrease in testosterone production. Excess fat can also damage cells lining the penis, thereby restricting blood flow to the organ.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet, free from processed foods, can help minimize the risk of developing a serious medical condition. The Massachusetts Male Aging Study found that eating healthy foods was also associated with fa lower risk of erectile dysfunction. If you’re trying to lose weight, opt for fresh foods, cut excess sugar and focus on sustainable dietary changes.
Exercise is another great way to boost your body’s circulation. Research by the University of Copenhagen found that exercise keeps the blood vessels more elastic, which boosts blood flow to the penis. Physical activity also promotes the production of nitric oxide, which is essential in promoting erections. Just 40 minutes of exercise, four times a week, can improve erectile function. A positive difference should be noticeable within six months.
Cardio and aerobic activities also strengthen your heart and prevent atherosclerosis (plaque build up and hardening of the arteries). If you’re just starting out, go for a walk to boost your health. Fitness trackers available on smartphones, make it easy to monitor how many steps you’ve taken. Current recommendations are in the region of 7,500 to 10,000 steps per day.
Too much stress can have negative effects on the body and mind. Chronic stress not only affects the immune system but is also associated with heart disease. In addition, stress disrupts the body's hormonal balance. During stressful events, the body produces more epinephrine (or adrenaline), which promotes muscle tension – the exact opposite of what you need during an erection. When you’re anxious or stressed, it may thus become harder for muscles to relax, leading to erectile dysfunction as a consequence.
You can cut stress by practicing relaxation techniques or meditation. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, it may be worth visiting a therapist or talking to your doctor.