Exercises that Can Help (and Hurt) Sexual Function

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The National Institutes of Health estimate that as many as 30 million men in the U.S. are affected by erectile dysfunction (ED). And having a problem with sexual arousal is no simple matter. It can involve the brain, hormones, emotions, nerves, muscles and blood vessels, and can be a sign of an underlying health condition and a risk factor for heart disease.

That’s why lifestyle is so important when it comes to ED. Things like smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight and not exercising contribute to heart disease and vascular problems, and can all raise your risk of ED, or even make your ED worse.

Sometimes medications or surgery are recommended for people with ED, but your doctor may suggest starting with healthy lifestyle changes, including exercise, which can help you lose weight, reduce stress and increase blood flow. It can also help you manage any existing health conditions that may be affecting your sexual function.

But not all exercises are created equal when it comes to your sexual health. Here’s what you should know:

  • Kegel Exercises. These maneuvers involve tightening and strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder and bowel and affect sexual function. Some people believe they can improve sexual performance, but there is limited evidence that this is the case. Talk to your doctor to see if kegel exercises may be beneficial for you.  

  • Prolonged Bike Riding. Bicycling on a regular basis over a long period of time can compress nerves and affect blood flow to the penis, which may lead to temporary or permanent erectile dysfunction. This is not the case for short-term or occasional bike riding. 

  • Running and Swimming. Cardiovascular exercises, like running and swimming, are great for reducing weight, increasing blood flow and improving your overall heart health; all of these can help improve sexual function. If you can’t get outdoors in colder weather, you can do these activities in a gym with an indoor pool or track, or even take a few brisk laps around a mall to get your blood and heart pumping.

  • Weight Training. Lifting weights, or taking a class using free weights, helps build strength, increase energy and improve mood — all of which can help your sex life.

  • Tai Chi or Yoga. If stress is a concern for you, try these low-impact activities, which can also help improve strength and can easily be done at home. Invite a few friends over to help keep you motivated.

Whatever exercise you choose, keep in mind that the main goal is to increase your physical activity, and the best exercise you can do is one that you enjoy. Let your doctor know you’d like to improve your sexual function and, together, you can come up with the best plan to improve your overall physical condition to help keep you at the top of your sexual game.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Oct 16
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