Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/8/2022
Dealing with erectile dysfunction (ED) isn’t fun. This condition can negatively affect not only your sex life but, your romantic relationships, too. So it’s understandable that you’d want to find a way to stop erectile dysfunction from happening. What would you say if we told you there may be a relationship between running and erectile dysfunction?
It’s well-known that regular exercise has many, many health benefits, improving both physical and mental health. What if reducing ED is another benefit of aerobic exercise — in particular, running? Could some simple cardio be the ED solution you’ve been searching for?
We’ll explore the connection between running and ED and determine if running helps sexual dysfunction.
To better understand the relationship between running and erectile dysfunction and how one might benefit the other, it’s important to know the basics of ED.
If you’ve ever been unable to get or maintain an erection that was firm enough for penetrative sex, you’ve dealt with erectile dysfunction.
Or, if you’ve never been able to get an erection when you engage in sexual activity, your erection doesn’t last during sex or you’re unable to get an erection at any time, that’s also ED.
Wondering if you’re dealing with erectile dysfunction? Our article on how to know if you have ED can help you find some answers.
How erections work is fairly interesting. When you’re sexually aroused, your brain sends chemical messages to the penis, which then cause the muscles of the corpora cavernosa (two erectile chambers that run along the sides of your penis and contain blood vessels) to relax letting blood flow into the tissue.
Erectile dysfunction can happen as an isolated incident or at the same time as other forms of sexual dysfunction, such as a low sex drive, premature ejaculation or anorgasmia (difficulty reaching orgasm).
There are many causes of erectile dysfunction — from psychological issues (mental health or performance anxiety) to physical health.
Other causes and risk factors for ED include:
High blood pressure
High cholesterol levels
Two other causes? Health issues such as being overweight or obese and not enough physical activity.
There are several treatment options for erectile dysfunction. Your healthcare provider may prescribe oral medications known as phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors, or PDE5 inhibitors, with Viagra® (which contains the active ingredient sildenafil) being the most well-known.
They may also recommend lifestyle changes like exercise and weight loss to help reduce ED.
So, if physical activity can help reduce the chances of erectile dysfunction, what is the specific connection between running and erectile dysfunction? Are there benefits, disadvantages or both to running for erectile dysfunction?
As mentioned above, regular exercise's benefits are numerous. Aerobic exercise specifically — “with oxygen” exercises like swimming, cycling and, yes, running — improves cardiovascular health, decreases the risk of heart or cardiovascular disease, helps maintain a healthy weight, lowers blood pressure and more.
All of these benefits are also factors that can contribute to a higher chance of experiencing erectile dysfunction. But what about running and erectile dysfunction, specifically?
According to a study published in The American Journal of Cardiology, aerobic activity — like running — may help improve ED.
Running can increase circulation which improves blood flow throughout the body as well as blood vessel health.
Obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and vascular disease can affect blood flow and result in ED.
Running can help improve or keep these medical conditions at bay and may also improve erectile dysfunction.
Another 2018 review found that people who practiced aerobic exercise four times a week saw improvements in erectile dysfunction.
While there are multiple benefits to aerobic exercise like running, there are other exercises that may reduce erectile dysfunction.
Exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles can help those with ED. The pelvic floor muscles help to sustain blood flow to the penis and maintain erections.
The pelvic floor muscles do this by putting pressure on the penile veins, which prevents blood from leaving the area and making an erection possible.
Kegel exercises can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles by targeting the muscles at the bottom of the pelvis.
And while testosterone levels may or may not have a role in erectile dysfunction, physical activity can help — just not solely running. No evidence has been found that cardio (such as running) has much of an impact, but too much may reduce levels of testosterone.
Dealing with erectile dysfunction can be frustrating. Fortunately, there are ways to treat ED through oral medication as well as therapy.
Adopting healthy habits like regular exercise can also help improve erectile dysfunction.
Aerobic exercise — including running — can help you manage weight, improve cardiovascular health and more.
The benefits of aerobic exercise also help manage risk factors of erectile dysfunction — showing a connection between running and ED.