Many men have issues with getting or maintaining an erection from time to time.
When people feel overly anxious or stressed, drink too much alcohol, or take certain medications, it can affect sexual performance.
For some, entering into a sexual experience with a new partner or having sexual intercourse too soon after masturbating can negatively affect erectile function.
But if you have difficulty maintaining or achieving an erection frequently—to the point that it affects your sexual health or causes psychological issues—you may be experiencing a medical condition called erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a medical condition that can affect people of any age, but most commonly impacts men who are middle-aged and older.
When someone has ED, they cannot achieve or maintain a firm erection long enough to enjoy satisfying sexual activity. The condition is sometimes referred to as erectile disorder or impotence.
ED can be distressing, but it is also very common.
More than 30 million men have some form of the condition in the United States alone, and it becomes more prevalent with age.
Experts believe that nearly 70% of men 70 and older have at least some difficulty with sexual performance because they have difficulty getting or keeping an erection.
Fortunately, medical treatments are available that can help patients address these challenges and enjoy more satisfying sexual experiences.
If you are concerned about your sexual function, talk to your doctor about whether medication might be right for you.
In addition, research shows that physical activity, particularly pelvic floor exercises (kegel exercises), can help restore normal erectile function in some patients with ED.
In this article, I’ll talk about how different kinds of exercise and diet changes can help with ED, and when to see a doctor or other healthcare professional about your symptoms.
I’ll also explain how K Health can help.
How Exercise Can Alleviate Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a medical condition that affects an individual’s ability to achieve or maintain an erection long enough to enjoy a satisfying sexual experience.
Many risk factors increase the likelihood of developing ED, including:
- Age over 40
- Alcohol, cigarette smoking, and illegal drug use
- Alzheimer’s disease
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High cholesterol
- Hormone abnormalities
- Mental health issues
- Metabolic disorders
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Peyronie’s disease
- Prostate cancer treatment and other prostate-related issues
- Renal failure
- Sleep apnea
- Type II diabetes
- Vascular disease
Some of the physical conditions that can contribute to ED are made worse by physical inactivity.
Studies show that regular exercise (40 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, four times a week for six months) is enough to improve sexual dysfunction in men who have ED because they are overweight or have hypertension, a metabolic disorder, or cardiovascular disease.
Furthermore, there’s evidence to suggest that performing pelvic floor muscle exercises, like Kegels, can help improve (and in some cases, fully restore) erectile function in patients with ED.
In one study, researchers enrolled 28 men in an intervention group that engaged in pelvic exercises regularly.
They advised a control group of 27 to make only simple lifestyle changes to improve their erectile function.
After three months, the intervention group showed significant improvement in their condition when compared to the control.
In the end, 40% of participants who regularly performed pelvic floor muscle exercises regained complete erectile function, and another 35% saw marked improvement in their ability to maintain an erection.
Studies like this suggest that training the pelvic floor muscles is an effective treatment for patients with ED.
Aerobic Exercises for ED
A healthy lifestyle plays an important role in preventing and treating erectile dysfunction.
For patients who have health conditions like obesity, hypertension, heart disease, or vascular disease, engaging in regular aerobic exercise is one of the best ways to encourage blood flow, improve weight loss, and help enhance sexual performance.
Experts believe that just a few minutes of brisk walking a day can have tremendous benefits toa person’s sexual and physical health.
According to one study, people who took a 30-minute walk every day were 41% less likely to develop ED.
High-intensity aerobic training, like running or swimming, is one of the best ways to improve blood flow and decrease your risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
One study suggests that those who ran 90 minutes per week or engaged in around 3 hours of vigorous outdoor labor per week were less likely to have issues with ED.
Kegel Exercises for ED
The pelvic floor muscles are muscles inside your pelvic region that play roles in controlling and using the structures inside—your bladder, penis, and anus.
Pelvic floor muscle exercises, or Kegel exercises, help strengthen these muscles.
Pelvic muscles also put pressure on blood vessels in the penis, assisting blood flow and helping to maintain erections.
Pelvic floor activation
To exercise your pelvic floor correctly, you must learn to activate and identify the different muscles you need to target.
You also need to be sure you’re not accidentally targeting other muscle groups.
Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor, and arms by your sides.
You can also try this activation exercise sitting or standing with your arms at your sides and your feet spread hip-width apart.
Now squeeze your pelvic floor muscles: These are the same muscles you would use to try to stop a stream of urine or to stop yourself from passing gas.
Keep your thighs, buttocks, and abdominal muscles relaxed as you squeeze the pelvic floor for a count of three.
Then inhale and release your pelvic muscles for another count to three.
Be sure that you aren’t contracting any leg, abdominal, or gluteal muscles while engaging in pelvic floor activation.
Once you get comfortable engaging your pelvic floor, you can try Kegel exercises in different positions, such as while seated or standing.
Pilates Exercises for ED
Some doctors recommend specific pilates exercises for patients with erectile dysfunction because they help develop and strengthen the pelvic floor.
For best results, be sure to understand how to activate and exercise your pelvic muscles with Kegels before attempting more advanced Pilates exercises.
Knee fall-outs, sometimes called knee drops, are an essential exercise that offers a simple, great place for beginners to start practicing Pilates.
Lie on the ground with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms by your sides.
Squeeze your pelvic muscles as you exhale, and lower one knee to the floor to the side, keeping your pelvic floor muscles engaged.
Once your knee touches the floor, relax your pelvic muscles and inhale. Reset, and continue alternating sides.
Beginners should attempt to complete between 5-10 knee fall-outs at a time on each side. Repeat 2-3 times per day.
The pelvic curl, or bridge pose, is another excellent exercise for individuals with erectile dysfunction.
To start, lie on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor at hip width, and arms by your sides.
Next, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and lift your hips into the air, putting your weight into your shoulders.
At the top of the position, squeeze your glutes.
Here, your body should form a straight line from your knees to shoulders.
Hold the pose for a few seconds, and then slowly lower your hips back down until they touch the floor.
Exhale and release your pelvic muscles. Repeat up to 10 times a day.
Foot raises not only strengthen your pelvic floor, but other muscle groups in your hips, legs, and buttocks, too.
Start by lying down with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
Take a deep breath in, and when you exhale, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and begin to raise one foot off the ground and straighten your leg.
Keep your other leg bent to protect your lower back.
Lift the now-straightened leg as high as you can without moving your spine and hips.
When you’ve lifted your leg as high as you can, inhale and slowly return your leg to the floor.
Repeat, alternating sides, up to 10 repetitions per day on each leg.
Exercise and Diet for ED
Exercising regularly and eating a nutritious, varied diet can improve your sexual health and lead to a higher quality of life.
Lifestyle changes you can make to improve erectile function include:
- Eating a varied, nutrient-rich diet
- Engaging in challenging physical activities, including aerobic exercise and strength training, at least three hours per week
- Investing time and energy into rewarding personal relationships
- Quitting smoking and drug use
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Reducing stress
- Seeking treatment for mental health issues like depression and anxiety
When To See a Doctor
Everyone struggles to achieve an erection now and again.
But if you find that you have chronic issues developing or maintaining a firm erection, and your sexual performance issues are affecting your relationships, mental health, or quality of life, make an appointment with a healthcare provider.
They will discuss your symptoms, evaluate your medical history and recommend a treatment plan to address your issues and improve your sexual health.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can have a primary care doctor online?
Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes through K Health.
K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and is based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Erectile dysfunction, physical activity and physical exercise: Recommendations for clinical practice. (2019).
Can lifestyle modification affect men’s erectile function? (2016).
Pelvic floor exercises for erectile dysfunction. (2005).
Physical Activity to Improve Erectile Function: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies. (2018).
Definition & Facts for Erectile Dysfunction. (2017).
Impotence and its medical and psychosocial correlates: results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. (1994).