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Heart Disease Health Center

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Bicycling May Replace Viagra for Men With Heart Failure


WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Nov. 14, 2001 -- Viagra has helped thousands of impotent men restore their sex lives. But for men with chronic heart failure and impotence, the "little blue pill" may not be an option. Many of these men take nitrates for heart failure, which can prove deadly if combined with Viagra. But there may be an alternative. Researchers have found that a regimen of regular bike riding can improve overall health, as well as sexual function, in men with chronic heart failure.

"We found that exercise can act as a medical therapy to improve both sexual function and overall quality of life in these patients," says study leader Romualdo Belardinelli, MD, director of the Lancisi Heart Institute in Ancona, Italy, in a news release.

Belardinelli team looked at about 60 men, average age 57, with stable, chronic heart failure but no prostate problems. About half of them were taking nitrates. The researchers randomly split the men into two groups. One followed an eight-week regimen of supervised stationary bicycling three times per week; the other maintained their normal lifestyles. All the men continued on whatever drugs they'd been taking. They completed questionnaires on quality of life and sexual activity and underwent fitness and overall health testing before and after the study.

At the end of the study, tests revealed improvements in the cardiovascular systems and overall health of the exercise group but not the control group. Peak oxygen uptake had improved 18%, and blood vessels were responding more appropriately. What's more, these objective improvements correlated with self-reported improvements in quality of life and sexual function.

"We found significant improvement ... among patients who were cycling," says Belardinelli. He suggests that the exercise may boost health by causing positive changes in the cells (called the endothelium) that line the blood vessel walls. These changes would mean more oxygen-rich blood is reaching all parts of the body, including the penis.

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