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Getting hard can be surprisingly complicated. Your head, heart, hormones, blood vessels, and so much more have to work together perfectly to pull off this crazy thing we call an erection—so don’t be bummed if things don’t always go as planned. It happens. The good news is, in addition to very effective ED medications, there are some simple lifestyle changes you can make to increase your chances of having harder erections.
How to get harder erections
Getting hard is the most obvious sign of sexual arousal for those with penises. It’s a physical response to chemical reactions in the body.
If you find that you’re having difficulty getting an erection, your erections aren’t as firm as you’d like, or they don’t last long enough for satisfying sex, you might have erectile dysfunction (ED). ED is very common—it’s estimated that more than 30 million American men experience erectile problems (Sooriyamoorthy, 2021).
Erectile dysfunction medications, such as Viagra (generic name sildenafil; see Important Safety Information) or Cialis (generic name tadalafil; see Important Safety Information), are considered one of the most effective ways to treat ED. But there are other ways to help increase the strength and frequency of your erections with just a few simple lifestyle changes (or “life hacks,” if you’re one of those guys). Because generally speaking, your erections will be best when you’re healthy.
Here are three simple things you can do to help get harder erections and keep erections without medication.
1. Exercise more frequently
You’ve heard this one before: Exercise is good for you. And while it may seem like boring medical advice to tell you to exercise regularly, cardiovascular health and erections are intimately linked.
Studies link atherosclerosis—the buildup of fat and cholesterol in your blood vessels—to erectile dysfunction (Tsujimura, 2017). Diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol increase the risk for atherosclerosis and erectile dysfunction (Ibrahim, 2018).
The blood vessels in your penis are smaller and narrower than the arteries in other parts of your body. What that means is that they’ll be the first to clog. The first sign of high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, and clogged arteries may not be a stroke or a heart attack. It could be erectile dysfunction.
Regular physical activity reduces your risks for cardiovascular disease (which is awesome), but it also lowers your risk of ED (Selvin, 2007). Try to think of a better reason to sweat through a spin class. And the good news is, you don’t have to turn into a gym rat to see results—just incorporate a few daily activities into your routine. About 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day seems to be the magic number, and it’s easier to do this than you think:
- Park in that faraway spot that nobody wants. You’ll add a few minutes to your morning walk, and you’ll also be the office hero. People will throw a parade in your honor! (Okay, maybe not, but if they do, opt to walk in the parade rather than riding on a float).
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get familiar with all the fire exits in your workplace while burning a few calories.
- Take a walk whenever you make a phone call. It’s called a mobile phone for a reason, so get up and get the blood pumping during your next quarterly recap or big sales call.
Adding a few minutes of exercise to your day can add years to your life—literally. And if that exercise results in stronger, more frequent erections, that’s even better.
2. Change your diet
When it comes to erections, you are what you eat. Maybe that eggplant emoji is secretly genius.
To be fair, no food can fix erectile dysfunction (ED). Still, a healthy diet can help manage risk factors for atherosclerosis, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which may also help stave off erection problems.
Some research has shown that fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats are associated with a lower risk of ED (Di Francesco, 2017). And the cool thing about eating a healthy diet is that you don’t necessarily have to lose weight to get better erections. You just have to improve the quality of the food you eat.
Several peer-reviewed studies, like the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, have linked a healthy diet to reduced risk for ED—not to mention other conditions like type 2 diabetes and obesity. The secret is increasing fruits, veggies, and whole grains while reducing processed foods, sugars, and red meat (Feldman, 1994).
Skip that third sugar in your morning coffee. Make the switch from regular soda to diet. When you feel ready, consider making the jump to drinking just water. When it comes to meals, replace half of your red meat with a vegetable or swap out beef with chicken or fish once a week.
The key to making lasting dietary changes is small moves. Gradual changes will help your taste buds and habits adjust to a new reality without even realizing you’re eating healthier.
Everyone is different, so not every diet will work for you. You can experiment with plans like the Mediterranean diet or the keto diet or just follow these guidelines to find a hybrid eating plan that works for you. But remember, start small. Don’t try to change everything about your habits in one huge overhaul.
Eat more of these:
- Whole grains
Eat less of these:
- Red meat (processed and unprocessed)
- Processed food
- High sugar drinks (like soda)
3. Limit alcohol consumption and quit smoking
Definitive research is still (surprisingly) a little murky on the relationship between alcohol consumption and erectile dysfunction. However, most healthcare providers will agree that moderation is a good idea when it comes to alcohol—especially on date night.
In the long term, heavy alcohol use increases the risk of liver disease, increasing the risk of ED. In the short term, it depresses your central nervous system, decreasing overall arousal. As a general rule, depressants are bad for sexual performance (Sooriyamoorthy, 2021).
For most men, having one drink won’t impact sexual performance in any meaningful way. However, it’s a good idea to limit yourself to two drinks before sexual activity, especially if you’ve struggled with erectile dysfunction. And drinking heavily while taking ED medication is not advised. Meanwhile, using tobacco products affects the quality of your erections in a negative way (Sooriyamoorthy, 2021).
Other options for prolonging erections
So there you have it: three relatively easy lifestyle changes that can improve blood flow and erectile function. Eat better, exercise more, and keep the drinking to a minimum. Erectile dysfunction can signal an underlying health problem, so get checked out if you’re experiencing ED.
These lifestyle factors are good for your health anyway, but if you’re still experiencing ED, you might want to get your testosterone level checked—low testosterone can contribute to a reduced sex drive. And if you feel ready, don’t be afraid to try ED meds (as recommended by your healthcare provider)—they’re safe and effective.
- Di Francesco, S. & Tenaglia, R. L. (2017). Mediterranean diet and erectile dysfunction: a current perspective. Central European Journal of Urology, 70(2), 185–187. doi: 10.5173/ceju.2017.1356. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28721287/
- Feldman, H. A., Goldstein, I., Hatzichristou, D. G., Krane, R. J., & Mckinlay, J. B. (1994). Impotence and Its Medical and Psychosocial Correlates: Results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. Journal of Urology, 151(1), 54–61. doi: 10.1016/s0022-5347(17)34871-1. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8254833/
- Ibrahim, A. (2018). Erectile dysfunction and ischaemic heart disease. European Cardiology, 13(2), 98–103. doi: 10.15420/ecr.2017.21.3. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6331774/
- Selvin, E., Burnett, A. L., & Platz, E. A. (2007). Prevalence and risk factors for erectile dysfunction in the US. The American Journal of Medicine, 120(2), 151-157. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.06.010. Retrieved from https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(06)00689-9/fulltext
- Sooriyamoorthy, T. & Leslie, S. W. (2021). Erectile dysfunction. [Updated August 12, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Dec. 7, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562253/
- Tsujimura, A. (2017). Atherosclerosis is associated with erectile function and lower urinary tract symptoms, especially nocturia, in middle-aged men. Prostate International, 5(2), 65–69. doi: 10.1016/j.prnil.2017.01.006. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5448724/