Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/17/2021
Finding it difficult to get and stay hard? You’re not alone. Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is one of the most common men’s health issues.
Although most people associate erectile dysfunction with age, your ability to get and maintain an erection is actually determined by a large variety of factors.
These include your diet, your weight and body fat percentage, your blood pressure, your levels of male sex hormones and even the total amount of stress you feel from your job, personal life or your general lifestyle.
Luckily, most of these factors are completely within your control, letting you take steps to protect your erection and avoid ED without necessarily having to use medication.
Although there’s no natural cure for ED, your habits and lifestyle both play a major role in your sexual health and erectile function.
By prioritizing healthy habits and cutting out bad ones, it’s often possible to reduce the severity of erectile dysfunction (if you already have it) or reduce your risk of developing it (if you don’t).
Many of these changes may also improve your general health and reduce your risk of dealing with related health problems, such as high cholesterol or cardiovascular disease.
Below, we’ve listed 10 ways that you can naturally improve your erections, avoid ED and enjoy a more stress-free sex life.
All of these strategies are easy to implement and align well with a healthy lifestyle, making them worth prioritizing before trying ED medication.
Being overweight or obese can negatively affect your ability to develop and maintain a healthy erection during sex.
Research has found that men with a BMI in the obese range are three times more likely to deal with sexual dysfunction than men with a normal BMI.
If you’re overweight (a BMI in the 25-30 range), your risk is approximately 1.5 times higher than the risk for a person with a healthy weight.
This increased risk of ED is because obesity is closely correlated with serious health conditions like diabetes, which can damage the nerves around your penis and prevent erections.
The best solution is to pay attention to your weight and aim to stay within the healthy range for your body type.
Since healthy body weight is also important for general health, maintaining a weight that’s in the healthy range is something that’s worth doing even if you don’t suffer from ED.
High blood pressure is closely linked to ED, possibly because of the negative effects it can have on the health of your heart and blood vessels.
While there’s no need to obsess over your blood pressure if you’re otherwise healthy, it’s best to check your blood pressure regularly.
If your blood pressure is above the normal range, it’s important to discuss your options with your healthcare provider.
Mildly high blood pressure (such as blood pressure that’s in the prehypertension range) is often treatable by making a few small changes to your diet and lifestyle.
To reduce your blood pressure, your healthcare provider may recommend adjusting your diet to contain less sodium, increasing your exercise level or taking steps to relax and de-stress.
Since healthy erections are so dependent on blood flow, many of these changes can also help to improve your sexual performance.
In addition to lifestyle changes, there are also several medications that can reduce your blood pressure levels and improve your cardiovascular health.
Erections are dependent on strong, reliable blood flow. Because of this, the same types of food that can clog your arteries and affect your cardiovascular health can also have a negative effect on your erections and sexual performance.
In fact, there’s such a close correlation between erectile dysfunction and heart health that ED is commonly viewed by medical professionals as a potential sign of heart disease.
For the most part, the same foods that cause heart disease can also contribute to problems with your erections and sexual health.
High-fat, high-sugar and high-calorie meals like hamburgers, pizza and fried chicken are all best avoided or eaten in moderation if you’re concerned about ED.
As well as avoiding foods that can affect your cardiovascular health, It’s also important to focus on eating nutritious, healthy foods.
A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in whole grains, fish, fruit, nuts and fresh vegetables but low in red meat, might be linked to a lower incidence rate of erectile dysfunction in men.
Our complete guide to foods that may help with erectile dysfunction lists readily-available foods that you can add to your diet to improve your sexual health.
Mental health plays a major role in almost every aspect of your sexual performance, including your ability to get and maintain an erection.
Erections begin with mental stimulation. As your nervous system communicates with the local nerves around your penis, blood flows into your erectile tissue, helping you become hard and stay hard during sex.
Certain mental health issues, such as depression and sexual performance anxiety, can affect this process and make it more difficult for you to get an erection.
For example, research shows that sexual performance anxiety -- a type of anxiety associated with sex -- affects nine to 25 percent of men and is a common cause of psychogenic erectile dysfunction.
Techniques used to treat sexual performance anxiety include mindfulness meditation training, cognitive behavioral therapy and medications, such as ED drugs and antidepressants.
If you have a mental health issue that’s causing ED or affecting your sex life in other ways, it’s important to seek treatment.
While some mental health issues require medication, many can be solved through options like individual or group therapy.
We offer a range of mental health services that can help you to overcome depression, anxiety and other common issues that can affect your sexual performance.
Aerobic forms of exercise, such as running, cycling, rowing or playing most sports, can improve your heart health and reduce the severity of erectile dysfunction.
A 2011 article published in the Ethiopian Journal of Health Science looked at evidence from five studies on the effects of aerobic exercise in men with ED.
The authors found that some of the studies showed a clear improvement in the symptoms of ED as men exercised, particularly over the long term.
The article concluded that aerobic training "can successfully treat ED in selected patients with arteriogenic ED" -- a form of erectile dysfunction that’s caused by poor blood flow to the tissue of the penis.
However, the researchers also noted that more research is needed on the link between regular physical activity and ED.
If you have ED, it’s usually possible to improve your cardiovascular health with a relatively mild exercise routine.
Put more simply, there’s no need to spend hours of your day exercising just to reduce your risk of dealing with erectile dysfunction.
For most men, a 15-60 minute daily session of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise (for example, jogging, cycling or walking on an incline) is enough to improve your heart health and reduce your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and other chronic health issues.
Although the link between testosterone and ED isn’t completely clear, low levels of testosterone may affect your level of interest in sex and have a modest impact on your ability to get and keep an erection during sex.
Your testosterone levels fluctuate naturally based on several different factors, from your diet and activity level to your sleep habits.
They also decline with age, with research showing a progressive decline in serum testosterone levels as men get older.
Common symptoms of low testosterone include loss of muscle mass, an increase in your level of body fat, changes in your mood, memory issues and a lethargic, fatigued feeling.
If you’re worried about low testosterone, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider or schedule an appointment with a urologist. It’s easy to check your testosterone levels with a blood test.
If you have low testosterone, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication or recommend that you make certain changes to your habits and lifestyle.
Simple habits, such as exercising often, reducing stress and getting a good night’s sleep, can all help to increase your testosterone levels. Many of these habits are also ideal for improving your general health and sexual performance.
The quality of your sleep has a huge impact on just about every aspect of your health, including your erections and general sexual performance.
In fact, research shows that common sleep disorders such as insomnia, shift work disorder and obstructive sleep apnea are all linked with erectile dysfunction and other urological disorders in men.
Other research has found that just one week of low quality sleep can result in a significant drop in your body’s production of testosterone -- a vital hormone for maintaining a strong and healthy sex drive.
Put simply, not only are you less likely to have reliable erections when you don’t sleep well, but you may also be less likely to feel interested in sex in the first place.
While science hasn’t yet revealed the perfect amount of sleep for an optimal sex drive, it’s best to aim for the CDC’s recommendation of seven or more hours per night.
If you find it difficult to doze off at a normal time, or have issues staying asleep at night, making a few simple changes to your lifestyle can often help you to maintain good sleep habits.
These include following a regular bedtime, avoiding caffeine, exercising regularly and switching off phones, tablets and other bright devices an hour or two before bedtime.
We’ve covered these in more detail in our guide to science-backed methods for a better night’s sleep.
Healthy erections are all about blood flow. Because smoking damages the blood vessels that supply blood to your penis, it can greatly increase your risk of developing ED.
Research into the relationship between smoking and ED has found that regular smokers have an elevated risk of developing erectile dysfunction compared to non-smoking men of the same age.
The same research shows that many men who smoke are able to improve their erectile function and sexual performance by quitting.
If you’re a smoker, kicking the habit might seem like a daunting task. However, it can offer real benefits both for your sexual function and for your general quality of life.
Beyond sex, quitting smoking has numerous other benefits, from reducing your risk of cancer and heart disease to improving your blood flow, reproductive health and lowering your risk of respiratory issues such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
These health benefits mean that quitting smoking is something that’s worth trying even if you don’t have erectile dysfunction.
Interestingly, nicotine itself is closely associated with ED, meaning that alternative methods of ingesting nicotine such as vaping or using nicotine patches may not result in improvements in your erectile health.
One study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, for example, found that nicotine lowers the erectile response to stimulation and decreases sexual arousal.
This means that the best approach to ED treatment for smokers isn’t just to quit smoking, but to quit nicotine altogether.
Our guide to quitting smoking discusses the most effective approaches for quitting, from simple tactics for avoiding cravings to medications that can help you to quit successfully.
Do you drink alcohol at night or on the weekend? Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink is a straightforward way to improve your erections and your general health and wellbeing.
While alcohol isn’t directly linked to erectile dysfunction, people with alcohol dependence are far more likely to display one or more signs of sexual dysfunction.
In one study from 2007, researchers found that the amount of alcohol a person consumes is the most significant predictor of developing sexual dysfunction.
The most common forms of sexual dysfunction observed in the study were erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and low sexual desire.
Although there’s no need to quit drinking entirely, limiting your alcohol consumption can improve your sexual performance and overall health.
Try to stick to the CDC’s guidelines and limit your alcohol intake to a maximum of two servings (for example, normal-sized glasses of wine or 12-ounce servings of beer) per day.
While the link between porn and erectile dysfunction isn’t crystal clear, some research suggests that watching too much porn may contribute to ED.
For example, research from the Naval Medical Center of San Diego has shown that regular porn watching could potentially be a cause of erectile dysfunction.
The link between porn consumption and ED appears to be psychological rather than physical -- a result of porn’s novelty and potential for easy escalation changing the way men (and women, who obviously aren’t affected by ED) view sexual activity.
Right now, research into the link between pornography and ED is limited. However, the research that currently exists suggests that taking a break from porn consumption may improve this form of erectile dysfunction.
In short, reducing the amount of time you spend watching porn could be a potential way to solve erection problems, especially if you find yourself less interested in real sexual activity as a result of watching too much porn.
Although erections might seem simple, your body does some serious work behind the scenes to help you get and stay hard during sex.
If you find it difficult to get and maintain a full erection during sex, the habits listed above can help you to improve your health and reduce your risk of dealing with ongoing ED.
We offer a large selection of FDA-approved ED medications online, following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider.
These medications can make a real difference in the strength and reliability of your erections, as well as your general sexual performance.
You can also find out more about the causes of ED, common risk factors and the most effective treatment options in our full guide to erectile dysfunction.
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