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Erectile Dysfunction and Lifestyle Factors

Most of us know by now that smoking is bad for the lungs, being overweight is bad for the heart, and stress can lead to headaches and anxiety. But, did you know that all of these factors can also cause erectile dysfunction? Learn how smoking and other lifestyle factors cause ED.

  • Smoking. Smoking increases a person's risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which can reduce blood flow throughout the body, including to the penis, impairing a man's ability to gain an erection. Quitting smoking can help some men partly or fully restore erectile function.
  • Being overweight. According to The American Urological Association (AUA), overweight men are more likely to have ED. Being overweight increases a person's risk of vascular disease, a known cause of erectile dysfunction.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of ED, according to the AUA.
  • Poorly managed diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes can impact blood flow to and nerve endings of the penis. By maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and taking the appropriate medication, men with diabetes may be able to avoid diabetes-related ED.
  • High cholesterol. High cholesterol can damage the linings of blood vessels throughout the body, including those in the penis. Cholesterol also can harden, narrow, or block the arteries leading to the penis. By maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and taking the appropriate medication, men can lower their cholesterol and reduce their risk of ED.
  • Excessive use of alcohol. Excessive drinking (more than two drinks a day) can inhibit erectile functioning by causing a restriction in blood flow to the penis and can affect production of the male hormone testosterone, affecting sex drive and erections.
  • Illegal drug use. Marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal drugs can cause impotence by damaging blood vessels and/or restricting blood flow to the penis.
  • Stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety are leading causes of temporary ED. Too much stress can prevent relaxation, making it difficult to achieve or maintain an erection. Less stress can mean improved erectile functioning.

Men can take active steps to prevent ED or improve their condition by adopting a healthier lifestyle.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Charles E. Jennings, MD on September 12, 2013
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