Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 6/26/2022
Exercise can do a lot of things for your health — from your physique and happiness to your longevity and sexual function, there’s not much that can’t be affected by the relative amount of exercise you get day to day, week to week, year to year. But while most of us are familiar with the basic benefits of exercise, what’s less commonly discussed is the damage excessive exercise can do to your body.
Can exercising too much cause problems for your physical and mental health? Specifically, can too much exercise cause erectile dysfunction or other sexual symptoms?
Chances are (and generally speaking) you’re not falling into the “exercises too much” category, but whether you or someone else in your life may be hitting the gym a little too hard, it’s valid to wonder if there’s a point where they’re doing more harm than good to their own body. After all, excessive exercise can be a sign of body dysmorphia, can lead to injuries and more.
As for your penis, well, you might worry about getting that to lift if you’re over-lifting at the gym. To understand the effects that too much exercise may have, we need to look at the relationship between cardio, pumping iron and the blood pumping into your penis.
There’s a pretty clear relationship between erectile function and exercise, but it’s the other way around: a lot of studies have shown that insufficient exercise can cause you to have problems with sexual performance.
Conditions like obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor diet that are associated with not getting enough regular exercise can definitely lead to vascular issues. Over time, these issues can — and likely will — increase the risk that erectile dysfunction will make an appearance on your list of health issues.
If you’re an overweight guy, chances are you’ve already heard about this; if you’re a guy with erectile dysfunction, chances are a healthcare professional has already asked you about your diet and exercise habits.
Exercising on a regular basis, as part of a healthy lifestyle (no smoking, moderate alcohol consumption) is considered to be the most important and effective method of prevention for ED issues down the line. It’s also a good way to prevent heart disease, as lack of exercise is a major contributor to that risk.
Oh, and it will also help you avoid obesity, hypertension, diabetes and a bunch of other health problems you really, really don’t want the copays for down the line. Trust us — we’ve seen the numbers.
Yeah, so, we’ve got nothing here, not a single study.
We get it: if too little exercise can affect your sexual health, it makes total sense that too much exercise seems like it could have the same effect. We’re sure there are anecdotal examples, but enough of them to supply a study? Nope.
Of course, we can’t account for everything. Accidents can happen, including ones that can affect your penis. And in some cases — although very rarely — too much exercise can damage your heart.
But there’s no real examples we’ve seen of exercise causing anything to function poorly downstairs, leading us to a simple answer to a newly simple question.
Nope. Cutting back on exercise for ED is the opposite of a good thing, particularly if your ED is related to a condition that exercise can help you overcome, like cardiovascular issues or obesity.
Certainly, if you’re ending your workouts by blacking out on the stairmaster, you should cut back, but again, that’s because you’re causing yourself some serious problems unrelated to your penis.
A few more healthy exercise habits to internalize:
Don’t exercise while ill
Don’t let yourself overheat
Let injuries heal
That point about overheating is an important one, because overheating can lead to dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations and fainting, all of which could do long-term damage. It might also cause death, so, there’s that to avoid too.
Want to improve your erectile health? Done talking about exercise for the day? Let’s talk about medication.
There are additional ways to keep your penis healthy other than physical activity, getting your blood pressure up or powerlifting to penile glory. They’re called prescription drugs, and they do the heavy lifting for you in this case.
Most of the ED medications currently considered safe and effective are a type of medication called phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors, or PDE5 inhibitors. These prescription medications work to prevent sexual dysfunction by inhibiting an enzyme (PDE5) from constricting the blood vessels in your penis, ensuring continued flow where it might have stopped earlier.
PDE5 inhibitor medications include Viagra®, Cialis®, Stendra® and Levitra®. A healthcare professional can prescribe the right version based on lifestyle factor preferences and your individual sex life needs (learn more about which one may be best in our guide to PDE5 inhibitors).
But generally speaking, these medications work — about 70 percent of men have been shown to benefit from the effective use of PDE5 inhibitors in studies.
Medication isn’t your only option, though. Truth be told, we know that losing weight, stopping the use of illegal drugs, decreasing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking are all important to erectile health — screwing around with one of these categories could very well be wreaking havoc on your circulatory system, messing with your testosterone levels and potentially causing your erectile dysfunction.
Lastly, it may all be in your head. Psychological causes of ED can include loss of sexual desire due to depression, performance anxiety, and low self esteem. The list goes on, and if this sounds familiar, you should talk to a mental health professional for help.
Whether you’re carrying a few extra pounds or struggling with some psychological issues when you look in the mirror, or you’re not even sure yet what the problem may be, treating erectile dysfunction isn’t about punishing yourself (or your penis) until it performs the way you want.
What you should care about — what you should consider — is medical support for these problems. As much as you may want to disappear into the gym until you get an erection, they generally frown on that behavior in most membership gyms these days, and more importantly, that’s not going to solve your problem.
Drop the gym bag. Open a new browser window. Reach out to a healthcare provider and have this conversation with them. Whether you’re trying to lift away performance anxiety or feeling mortality and self-consciousness hit harder after a night with no liftoff, you’re far from alone.
The difference between you and the next guy having some trouble downstairs isn’t what he can deadlift: it’s whether he talked to a healthcare provider and got the right kind of help.
Do some reps on that advice. We’ll be here to help when you’re ready for the right kind of heavy lifting.