Can you run as fast as you did when you were 20 years old? Hit a baseball as far as you once could? Bash a tennis ball with the same speed and spin?
But even as we age, there are still plenty of ways to stay in the game and enjoy it. That's as true of sex as it is of sports.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) can occur for many reasons. Sometimes it is as simple as the side effect of a particular medication. But for roughly 75% of men, the cause is more complex. ED may result from vascular disease, neurological disease, diabetes, or prostate-related treatments or surgeries.
Whether you currently suffer from ED or are hoping to sidestep this condition, try these tips for better health and a better sex life.
- Start walking. According to one Harvard study, just 30 minutes of walking a day was linked with a 41% drop in risk for ED. Other research suggests that moderate exercise can help restore sexual performance in obese middle-aged men with ED.
- Eat right. In the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and fish — with fewer red and processed meat and refined grains — decreased the likelihood of ED. Another tip: a chronic deficiency in vitamin B12 may contribute to erectile dysfunction. A daily multivitamin and fortified foods are the best bets for those who absorb B12 poorly, including many older adults.
- Pay attention to your vascular health. High blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides can all damage arteries in the heart (causing heart attack), in the brain (causing stroke), and leading to the penis (causing ED). Low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and an expanding waistline also contribute. Check with your doctor to find out whether your vascular system — and thus your heart, brain, and penis — is in good shape or needs a tune-up through lifestyle changes and, if necessary, medications.
- Size matters, so get slim and stay slim. A trim waistline is one good defense — a man with a 42-inch waist is 50% more likely to have ED than one with a 32-inch waist. Getting to a healthy weight and staying there is another good strategy for avoiding or fixing ED. Obesity raises risks for vascular disease and diabetes, two major causes of ED. And excess fat interferes with several hormones that may be part of the problem as well.
- Move a muscle, but we're not talking about your biceps. A strong pelvic floor enhances rigidity during erections and helps keep blood from leaving the penis by pressing on a key vein. In a British trial, three months of twice-daily sets of Kegel exercises (which strengthen these muscles), combined with biofeedback and advice on lifestyle changes — quitting smoking, losing weight, limiting alcohol — worked far better than just advice on lifestyle changes.
For more on diagnosing and treating ED, buy What to do about Erectile Dysfunction, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.