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Dec 09, 2021
5 min read

Erectile dysfunction (ED) exercises: do they work?

Pelvic floor exercises and cardio (like running or swimming) have been shown to improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction. There are also other steps you can take to improve your erectile health.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Not being able to get or maintain an erection long enough for satisfying sex (otherwise known as erectile dysfunction (ED), is frustrating. Luckily, there are plenty of treatment options available.

And while some things, like Viagra, may get more headlines, there are some things you can do without a prescription, like plain old exercise, that might make it easier to get an erection whenever you like. The two front runners for improving ED are Kegels (pelvic floor exercises) and aerobic exercise. Let’s dive into the relationship between ED and physical activity to see how it might help.

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Erectile dysfunction exercises

In order to understand how certain exercises may help ED, we need to take a step back and talk about 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 shrinks. Those who experience ED find that draining happens sooner than they’d like, causing a loss of their erection. 

Erectile dysfunction has a range of potential causes—from diabetes to performance anxiety to depression. It can even be a side effect of certain medications. There are a number of effective treatments for it, including prescription medication 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.  

And while your penis isn’t made of muscles, exercise might actually help improve erections. That’s because exercise increases blood flow in the body in general and to specific areas. And there is some evidence showing things like Kegel exercises and regular physical activity can ramp up blood flow to the penis to give you stronger erections.

Kegel exercises for ED

Kegel exercises might ring a bell. They’re usually recommended for women after they have a baby to strengthen the muscles in the pelvic floor. But men can do Kegels too. 

So how might this help with ED? Kegels strengthen specific pelvic muscles called the bulbospongiosus and ischiocavernosus muscles. These muscles are active when you get an erection and are also responsible for maintaining an erection and helping with ejaculation (Cohen, 2016).

One study of men with ED found those who performed Kegel exercises regularly over the course of six months saw greater improvement in symptoms than those who did not. In fact, 40% of men who did pelvic floor muscle exercises actually regularly regained normal erectile function, and an additional 36% saw an overall improvement in their erections (Dorey, 2005).

As if these findings aren’t enough for you to consider adding Kegels to your daily routine, the benefits don’t just stop with ED. Regular pelvic floor exercises help prevent urinary and bowel incontinence, dribbling after peeing, and can also improve your overall sexual experience by giving you more control over when you ejaculate (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. 

Now, repeat that squeeze 10–15 times, holding each squeeze 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 it (NIH, 2014). 

Aerobic exercises for ED

When we think of physical 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 actually a good idea too: studies have found that cardio (like running or swimming) can have real benefits for ED. 

In one study, researchers found that the risk of ED was reduced by 30% among men who ran for 90 minutes each week. Another study found that engaging in moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise for 40 minutes a day four times a week decreased participants’ erectile problems (Bacon, 2006; Gerbild, 2018).

Heart disease, erectile dysfunction, and physical exercise

It’d be safe to say that most men have a reasonably strong sentimental attachment to their penis. But the relationship between the your heart and your genitals runs much deeper. 

In other words, what’s good for your heart is good for your penis. And don’t just take our word for it. Research shows that 50% of men who have coronary artery disease (which can lead to a heart attack) also experience ED (Sooriyamoorthy, 2021). 

Coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis result from build up that sticks to and clogs the blood vessels, and 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 just one of the many reasons why you should keep your arteries healthy. You can do that by (AHA, 2015):

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Reducing salt intake
  • Quitting smoking (or refusing to start)
  • 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, high blood pressure
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation

Exercises for ED: the takeaway

Remember that the penis can serve as a “check engine” light for the overall health of your body. If you’re experiencing ED, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider as soon as possible. That will allow you to rule out any additional underlying health issues while also getting things back on track downstairs. 

And in the meantime, give the ED exercises above a try. The best part? Kegels can be done anywhere, anytime––even when you’re surfing the internet.

References

  1. American Heart Association (AHA). 2015. How to help prevent heart disease at any age. Retrieved Nov. 30, 2021 from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/how-to-help-prevent-heart-disease-at-any-age 
  2. Bacon, C. G., Mittleman, M. A., Kawachi, I., Giovannucci, E., Glasser, D. B., & Rimm, E. B. (2006). A Prospective Study of Risk Factors for Erectile Dysfunction. Journal of Urology, 176(1), 217–221. doi:10.1016/s0022-5347(06)00589-1. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16753404/ 
  3. 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/ 
  4. Dorey, G., Speakman, M., Feneley, R., Swinkels, A., Dunn, C. (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/ 
  5. 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/ 
  6. Inman, B., Sauver, J., Jacobson, D., McGree, M., Nehra, A., Lieber, M, 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/ 
  7. Kim, J., Lee, Y., Kim, H., Song, S., Jeong, S., & Byun, S. (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 
  8. National Institute of Health (NIH). (2014). Kegel Exercises. Retrieved Nov. 30, 2021 from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/kegel-exercises 
  9. Sooriyamoorthy, T., & Leslie, S. (2021). Erectile dysfunction. [Updated Aug 12, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32965924/