Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/25/2020
Worried about your ability to develop and sustain an erection? Erectile dysfunction (or ED) is a common condition that can affect men of all ages and backgrounds, making sexual activity less enjoyable.
Medical studies have revealed that several health factors are closely linked to ED. One of these factors is weight -- for the most part, being overweight or obese is closely linked to a higher rate of ED in men of all ages.
In this guide, we’ll look at the links between being overweight and developing ED, as well as the most effective ways to improve your erection quality, sexual performance and general quality of life.
While there’s no scientific data showing that being overweight directly causes ED, some studies show a clear link between weight loss and improvements in sexual performance.
There’s also a wealth of epidemiologic linking risk factors for heart , such as high blood pressure and obesity, with erectile dysfunction.
For example, an Italian study of overweight and obese men looked at the effects of weight loss on erectile dysfunction. The men were divided into two groups -- one of which received expert help on weight loss and exercise, while the others received only minor written help.
Men that were coached on weight loss lost an average of 33 lbs over a two year period, with the members of the control group losing an average of fewer than 5 lbs over the same period.
After two years, 31% of men in the group that lost an average of 33 lbs each reported restored erectile function. Only 5% of men in the control group showed similar improvements.
More recent research from the University of Adelaide shows similar findings -- that men who are overweight or obese have a incidence rate for erectile dysfunction, but that this ED can often be treated through improvements in physical activity and a reduction in body weight.
In short, while there isn’t any scientific evidence to show that being overweight is a direct cause of erectile dysfunction, the negative health effects of obesity -- high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes -- are all closely linked to erectile dysfunction, making it a major risk factor.
Beyond the negative cardiovascular health effects of being overweight, researchers also believe that the effects of obesity on testosterone could contribute to erectile dysfunction.
Obesity is closely linked to lower-than-normal levels of testosterone in men. A 2009 study shows that BMI (body mass index, a measure of body weight relative to height) is inversely proportional to serum total testosterone concentrations.
Other studies show a similar link between obesity and testosterone. One study from 1977 found that severely obese men had low levels of serum testosterone. A more recent review of medical study data from 2014 ended with similar findings.
In short, men with higher-than-average body weight tend to have lower levels of serum and free testosterone, a vital hormone for normal sexual performance in men.
Testosterone is closely linked to libido in men, with low levels of testosterone generally resulting in a reduction in sexual desire. There’s also some data to suggest that a certain baseline level of testosterone is essential for normal erectile function, making it a potential factor for ED.
The solution? Just like the men in the obesity studies linked above, men that lose fat and reduce their body weight through diet and lifestyle changes tend to show improvements in testosterone production.
In the Diabetes Prevention Program multicenter clinical research study, obese men were put on a diet and exercise weight loss program. Over the course of one year, men that lost weight with diet and exercise showed a small but significant increase in bioavailable testosterone levels.
This increase in testosterone didn’t occur in the placebo or medication treated groups, showing that weight loss and physical activity could be a major factors in healthy testosterone levels for men.
Are you overweight or obese? Confirming your risk for obesity and related health problems isn’t as straightforward as it should be.
The BMI (Body Mass Index) is still widely referred to in the medical field, but it has its drawbacks. For instance, it doesn’t take body fat percentage into account. This can cause a muscular bodybuilder and an obese individual to have the same BMI number. Obviously, that’s an issue but keep in mind that most of us are not walking around looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Here is a simple BMI calculator from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
To give yourself another data point you could also measure your waist to hip ratio which can give you more information about your current weight and body composition. Here’s an article from healthline that explains how to take the measurement and what the numbers mean.
If both your BMI and waist to hip ratio are outside the healthy range you could be at a greater risk for weight-related health issues.
If you’re overweight, making a few small changes to your lifestyle and diet could have significant effects on your sexual performance:
Lose weight, either through dieting, exercise or a combination of both. Weight loss is closely linked to improvements in erection quality and sexual performance, making a healthy body weight an important factor for improving your sex life.
Focus on cardiovascular health factors. Cardiovascular issues like hypertension (high blood pressure) and high cholesterol are closely linked to erectile dysfunction, making any improvement to your heart health a positive for your sexual performance.
You can learn more about this in our guide to high blood pressure and ED, which covers one of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction.
Exercise. Even if you aren’t aiming to lose weight, exercising regularly can improve your mood and help you relax during sexual activity, reducing the risk of performance anxiety and increasing your stamina.
Consider using ED medication (like Viagra). If losing weight and improving your cardiovascular health doesn’t completely solve your ED, medications like sildenafil pills(generic Viagra), tadalafil and vardenafil can help you improve your erections and gain more confidence in bed. Just make sure you talk with your doctor first to make sure that you’re healthy enough to use ED medications.
For both sexual and all-round health, it’s always best to maintain a healthy body weight. If your weight has crept up over the last few years, bringing it down to a healthy level can have a major positive effect on your erections, sexual performance and general quality of life.
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