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Struggling to get or maintain an erection firm enough for satisfying sex (otherwise known as erectile dysfunction, or ED) is frustrating. Luckily, plenty of safe and effective treatment options are available to manage ED.
And while some treatment options, like Viagra, may get more headlines, there are many ways you can improve your erectile function without a prescription. For example, plain old exercise might improve your circulation, making it easier to get and maintain erections. Two of the best erectile dysfunction exercises are Kegels (pelvic floor exercises) and aerobic exercises. Let’s dive into the relationship between ED and physical activity to see how exercise might improve your sex life.
What is ED?
To understand how certain exercises may help with ED, you need to understand why ED happens.
The penis is lined with two tubes of spongy tissue (the corpus cavernosa). During an erection, those tissues fill with blood, causing the penis to stiffen and enlarge. When the blood drains out, the penis softens and returns to its previous size. Those who experience erectile dysfunction may find that blood leaves the penis sooner than they’d like, causing them to lose an erection or not be able to achieve an erection at all.
Erectile dysfunction has a range of potential causes—from diabetes to performance anxiety to depression. ED can also be a side effect of certain medications, like SSRIs. There are a number of effective treatments for ED, including prescription medications like sildenafil (brand name Viagra; see Important Safety Information) and tadalafil (brand name Cialis; see Important Safety Information). These drugs work by improving blood flow in the penis.
Erectile dysfunction exercises
Your penis isn’t made of muscles, but exercise still might improve your erections. Exercise increases blood flow, in general and to specific areas. Some evidence shows that Kegel exercises and regular physical activity increase blood flow to the penis, giving you firmer, longer-lasting erections.
Kegel exercises for ED
The phrase “Kegel exercises” might ring a bell. They’re usually recommended for people after they have a baby to strengthen the muscles in the pelvic floor. But people with penises can benefit from Kegels, too.
Kegel exercises for ED may help strengthen specific pelvic muscles called the bulbospongiosus and ischiocavernosus muscles. These muscles are active when you get an erection and are also involved in maintaining the erection and ejaculation (Cohen, 2016).
One small study of men with ED found that those who performed Kegel exercises regularly over six months saw more significant improvement in symptoms than those who did not. In fact, 40% of men who did pelvic floor muscle exercises regained normal erectile function, and an additional 35% saw an overall improvement in their erections (Dorey, 2005).
How to perform kegel exercises for ED
Ready to give Kegels a go? First, pretend you’re trying to stop peeing or passing gas. Feel that squeeze? Those are your pelvic floor muscles contracting.
Repeat that squeeze 10–15 times, holding each contraction for three seconds and relaxing for three. Do this at least three times every day. It’s okay if you can’t do a full set of 15 Kegels on your first day. Keep at it and work your way up to a set of 15 (NIH, 2021).
Aerobic exercises for ED
When we think of exercise, squeezing your pelvic muscles while working at your desk probably isn’t what comes to mind. But the things that get you sweaty are also a good idea; studies have found that cardio (like running or swimming) can have real benefits for ED.
Some studies suggest that engaging in moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise for at least 40 minutes a day four times a week for six months may improve erectile problems. Regular physical activity can also lead to weight loss, another factor that may improve your ED (Gerbild, 2018).
Heart disease, erectile dysfunction, and physical exercise
It’s safe to say that most people with a penis have a reasonably strong sentimental attachment to that penis. But the relationship between your heart and your genitals runs much deeper.
In other words, what’s good for your heart is good for your penis. Research shows that 50% of men with coronary artery disease (which can lead to a heart attack) also experience ED (Sooriyamoorthy, 2022).
Coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis result from build-up that clogs the blood vessels. Just like it can happen in your heart, it can happen in the blood vessels that lead to your penis and allow you to get an erection. That’s why erectile dysfunction can be one of the first signs of heart problems, particularly in younger men (Inman, 2009).
Warding off ED is one of the many reasons you should keep your arteries healthy. You can maintain your heart health by (AHA, 2015):
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Reducing salt intake
- Quitting smoking (or not starting)
- Following the American Heart Association’s guidelines for physical activity: At least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise (like brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (such as running, biking, rowing, or swimming).
- Managing or preventing diabetes and high blood pressure
- Drinking alcohol in moderation
Erectile dysfunction exercises: the takeaway
Remember that the penis can serve as a “check engine” light for your overall health. If you experience ED, talk to a healthcare provider as soon as possible. They will help you rule out any underlying health conditions and get things back on track downstairs.
In the meantime, give these ED exercises a try. The best part? You can do Kegels anywhere, anytime––even while you’re reading this article.
- American Heart Association (AHA). (2015). How to help prevent heart disease at any age. Retrieved on Sep. 14, 2022 from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/how-to-help-prevent-heart-disease-at-any-age
- Cohen, D., Gonzalez, J., & Goldstein, I. (2016). The role of pelvic floor muscles in male sexual dysfunction and pelvic pain. Sexual Medicine Reviews, 4(1), 53–62. doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2015.10.001. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27872005/
- Dorey, G., Speakman, M., Feneley, R., et al. (2005). Pelvic floor exercises for erectile dysfunction. BJU International, 96(4), 595–597. doi:10.1111/j.1464-410X.2005.05690.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16104916/
- Gerbild, H., Larsen, C., Graugaard, C., & Josefsson, K. (2018). Physical activity to improve erectile function: a systematic review of intervention studies. Sexual Medicine, 6(2), 75–89. doi:10.1016/j.esxm.2018.02.001. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29661646/
- Inman, B., Sauver, J., Jacobson, D., et al. (2009). A population-based, longitudinal study of erectile dysfunction and future coronary artery disease. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 84(2), 108–113. doi:10.4065/84.2.108. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19181643/
- Kim, J., Lee, Y., Kim, H., et al. (2021). A prospectively collected observational study of pelvic floor muscle strength and erectile function using a novel personalized extracorporeal perineometer, Scientific Reports, 11(18389). Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-97230-6
- National Institute of Health (NIH). (2021). Kegel exercises. Retrieved on Sep. 14, 2022 from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/kegel-exercises
- Sooriyamoorthy, T. & Leslie, S. (2022). Erectile dysfunction. StatPearls. Retrieved on Sep. 14, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32965924/
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.