Although most people associate erectile dysfunction (ED) with age, your ability to develop and maintain an erection is actually determined by a wide range of factors.
These include your diet, your weight and body fat percentage, your blood pressure, male sex hormone levels and even the levels of stress you feel from your job, personal life and 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.
Below, we’ve listed eight ways for you to naturally improve your erections, avoid ED and enjoy a more stress-free sex life. All 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 normal erection during sex. This is because obesity is closely correlated with serious health issues like diabetes, which can damage the nerves around the penis and prevent erections.
Erectile dysfunction from diabetes is particularly worrying because common ED treatments like Viagra and Cialis may not be totally effective in people with diabetes. In fact, one study from 1999 showed that only 56 percent of men with diabetes-induced ED saw improvements with Viagra.
The best solution is to pay attention to your weight and aim to stay within the healthy range for your body type. Since a healthy body weight is also important for general health, keeping your bodyweight 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 blood vessels.
While there’s no need to obsess over your blood pressure if you’re otherwise healthy, it’s important to get it checked regularly. If your blood pressure is outside the normal range, you should consider talking to your doctor about treatment options.
Mildly high blood pressure (such as blood pressure in the "prehypertension" range) can often be lowered by making a few small changes to your diet and lifestyle. There are also numerous medications that can reduce your blood pressure and improve your arterial health.
Erections are dependent on strong, reliable blood flow. Because of this, the same foods that can clog your arteries and damage your heart can also have a negative impact on the quality of your erections.
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 erections. Fatty, sugary and high-calorie meals like hamburgers, pizza and fried chicken should all be avoided or eaten in moderation if you’re concerned about ED.
It’s also important to eat nutritious, healthy foods. A 2010 study showed that the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in whole grains, fish, fruit, nuts and vegetables, but low in red meat, may be linked to a lower incidence rate of erectile dysfunction in men.
Learn more in our guide to natural treatments and supplements for ED.
Aerobic exercise, such as running, cycling, rowing or playing most sports, improves your heart health and can reduce the effects of erectile dysfunction.
A 2011 article in the Ethiopian Journal of Health Science curated evidence from five studies into aerobic exercise and 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 caused by poor arterial blood supply, but additional research is needed in this area.
Luckily, there’s no need to spend hours of your day exercising to reduce the risk of developing ED. For most men, a 15-60 minute session of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise (for example, jogging or walking on an incline) is enough to improve your heart health.
Low testosterone levels can potentially cause erectile dysfunction. This is because testosterone is one of the key hormones involved in regulating the male sex drive. Less testosterone usually means a lower interest in sex, as well as weaker, less consistent erections.
Testosterone levels fluctuate naturally based on a variety of factors, from your diet and activity level to your sleep habits. They also decline with age, with some studies showing a progressive reduction in serum testosterone levels as men get older.
Other symptoms of low testosterone include lethargy, lack of mental drive, muscle loss, fat gain around the abdomen and a general lack of interest in sexual activity.
Luckily, your testosterone levels are easy to check using a simple blood test. If they’re low, your doctor may be able to prescribe a number of treatments to bring your testosterone levels back up to normal and help you avoid hormonal ED.
Smoking cigarettes greatly increases your risk of developing ED, as smoking can damage the blood vessels that are essential for developing and maintaining an erection.
This means that if you’re a smoker, quitting can be an effective way to improve the quality of your erections and reduce the risks of ED. Quitting smoking also improves your heart health, making it something that’s worth prioritizing even if ED isn’t a problem for you.
Interestingly, nicotine itself is closely linked to ED, meaning that alternative methods of receiving nicotine like vaping or using a nicotine patch might not produce any improvement in ED. A study from 2008, for example, shows that nicotine tends to reduce erectile responses to stimulation.
This means that the best approach to ED treatment for smokers is to not just quit smoking but to quit consuming nicotine at all -- something that requires serious focus and commitment.
Do you drink alcohol at night or on the weekend? Reducing the amount of alcohol you consume is one of the easiest ways to improve not just your ability to maintain an erection, but also your general health and wellbeing.
While alcohol isn’t directly linked to ED, people with alcohol dependence are far more likely to display one or more signs of sexual dysfunction. These signs range from low sexual desire to premature ejaculation and include erectile dysfunction.
Interestingly, one study from 2007 found that the amount of alcohol a person consumes is the most significant predictor of developing sexual dysfunction, indicating that drinking more could mean a higher risk of experiencing ED and reduced sexual desire.
The solution? Only drink alcohol in moderation. Doing so will help you reduce the risks of developing ED, as well as alcohol-related issues such as liver damage and memory loss.
Research from the Naval Medical Center of San Diego has shown that regular consumption of porn 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, as well as clinical reports, suggests that stopping porn use can often result in an improvement in sexual function.
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.