According to data from the Cleveland Clinic, 40 percent of men are affected by erectile dysfunction at the age of 40, making difficulty getting an erection far more widespread than many people think.
Physiologically speaking, healthy erections — and a healthy sex life, in general — are all about blood flow. When blood is able to freely flow into the erectile tissue of your penis, you’ll find it far easier to get an erection when you’re sexually aroused.
When your blood flow is restricted, whether due to a health condition, a habit or something you ate or drank, you’ll find it more difficult to get an erection. If your blood flow is very restricted, it’s possible that you might not be able to get an erection at all.
Whether you’re concerned about your sexual performance and want to take action, or just want to improve your general health, taking steps to improve blood flow to your penis can pay major dividends when it comes to your sex life.
Below, we’ve listed a range of science-backed tips and tactics you can use to improve the level of blood flow to your penis. We’ve tried to cover every possible base, from simple changes that you can make to your diet to FDA-approved medications, healthy habits and more.
The foods you eat can have a significant impact on your blood flow. Eat a healthy diet that’s rich in vitamins, minerals and nutrients and you should be able to improve blood flow and other key health markers; eat poorly and you could experience a reduction in blood flow.
If you want to improve blood flow to your penis (and elsewhere throughout your body), try to add the following foods to your diet:
As well as emphasizing the blood flow-promoting foods listed above, it’s also important to avoid foods that can harm your blood flow. Try to limit your consumption of the following foods:
It’s also important to stay hydrated. Blood is primarily made up of water, meaning it flows best when you drink a normal amount of fluids. When you’re dehydrated, there’s a lower volume of blood that can travel through your body to muscles, organs and tissue such as your penis.
While there’s no ideal amount of water for everyone to drink daily, the eight-by-eight rule of eight glasses of eight ounces each is a good guide. If you’re highly active or it’s a hot day, consider adding an extra glass or two if you start to feel dehydrated.
While there’s no need to obsess over your body fat percentage or weigh yourself every day, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight for optimal blood circulation, cardiovascular health and sexual performance.
Obesity and erectile dysfunction are closely linked, with men who are overweight or obese more likely than average to experience some sexual performance issues.
While obesity isn’t a direct cause of ED, it’s also closely associated with hypertension, diabetes and other health issues that can increase your risk of developing erectile dysfunction. These are also factors that can affect blood circulation, stopping blood from properly flowing to your penis.
There are also other sex-related issues related to obesity, such as the risk of developing lower testosterone levels than the average. All of these make it important to maintain a healthy weight if you’re concerned about blood flow and overall sexual performance.
Exercising is one of the most effective ways to improve your cardiovascular health and increase blood circulation, including to the tissue in your penis responsible for helping you get and keep an erection during sex.
Regular exercise can cause a reduction in your blood pressure levels, promoting healthy blood flow and improving your general health. This makes it important to exercise regularly even if you aren’t specifically concerned about your sexual performance.
In a 2018 scientific review, researchers stated that both resistance training (which can include weightlifting and calisthenics) and endurance training are effective at lowering baseline blood pressure. In short, exercise, in any form, is a great way to improve your body’s blood flow.
Alcohol and nicotine, whether inhaled through cigarettes or a vaporizer, are both harmful to your blood flow and sexual performance.
Let’s cover nicotine first. Regardless of how you inhale nicotine, it will act as a stimulant once it’s in your body. This means that your heart will start to beat faster, your blood pressure will start to rise and the arteries that control blood flow throughout your body will start to constrict.
The end result is a significant reduction in blood circulation throughout your body, including the flow of blood to the erectile tissue of your penis. In short, nicotine — regardless of how you opt to inhale it — is not a good choice for optimal blood flow and sexual performance.
Likewise, although alcohol doesn’t directly restrict your blood flow (it’s actually a mild vasodilator when used in normal amounts), it can affect your sexual performance. In a 2007 study, alcohol consumption was closely linked to a range of male sexual dysfunctions, including ED.
For optimal blood flow, it’s best to avoid nicotine in any form, especially if you plan to have sex on that day. While a small amount of alcohol is fine, it’s best not to drink more than one to two servings per day if you’re aiming for optimal blood flow and sexual performance.
When you start to feel stressed, your body increases its production of stress hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. These can make your blood vessels constrict, leading to higher blood pressure levels and a reduction in blood flow throughout your body.
Just like foods and substances such as nicotine that have a vasoconstricting effect, stress can affect blood flow to your penis and cause erectile dysfunction. In fact, stress is one of the most common psychological causes of ED (as well as an indirect physical cause).
While some stress is unavoidable, reducing your average stress level can be a simple, effective way to promote healthy blood flow to your penis and improve your sexual performance.
This can be as simple as changing your day-to-day habits and routine to avoid major sources of stress. You can also make use of stress reduction and relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery and breath focus.
PDE5 inhibitors are medications that are specifically designed to improve the rate of blood flow to your penis, helping you enhance sexual performance and avoid erectile dysfunction.
The most well-known PDE5 inhibitor is Viagra, or sildenafil. There are also several other widely used medications in this category, such as Cialis (or tadalafil, a long-lasting PDE5 inhibitor) and Levitra (vardenafil).
These medications are specifically used to treat erectile dysfunction, making them a treatment option worth considering if you don’t notice any improvement in blood flow by exercising, changing your diet, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding unhealthy substances.
PDE5 inhibitors are all prescription medications, meaning you’ll need to talk with a doctor before you can use them. Our guide to what you should expect from ED medication covers Viagra and other PDE5 inhibitors in more detail, with information on their effects and how they work.
Treating erectile dysfunction is all about improving blood flow. Although some cases of ED are psychological in nature (for example, ED caused by performance anxiety), most cases can be treated through habits and medications that enhance blood flow to the penis.
Our guide to what factors cause ED and what you can do about them covers the physical and psychological issues that can contribute to erectile dysfunction and other sexual performance issues, as well as the most effective treatment options.