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Men's Health

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Biking and Erectile Dysfunction: A Real Risk?

Some experts say ED may be an unwelcome side effect of bicycle riding.
WebMD Feature

For men, the health benefits of bicycling may involve a troublesome trade-off. While riding a bicycle burns calories and improves cardiovascular fitness, too many hours on a bicycle saddle can compress the artery and vital nerves leading to the penis.

The result? A risk of numbness, pain, and erectile dysfunction.

A male cyclist can place a significant percentage of his weight on his perineum, an area between the scrotum and the anus where the nerves and arteries to the penis pass. This pressure -- and a narrow saddle seat -- can injure the arteries and nerves.

"The earliest warning sign is numbness or tingling," says Irwin Goldstein, MD, director of San Diego Sexual Medicine.

Even a young man may lose the ability to achieve an erection, says Goldstein, who pioneered an operation that restores blood flow and sexual potency in 65%-75% of cases.

How much riding does it take to put a man at risk? The Massachusetts Male Aging Study found that the risk was highest among men who cycled more than three hours a week.

The 'No-Nose' Seat

Goldstein encourages men to sit upright when they ride and replace the traditional bicycle saddle with a "no-nose" seat that redistributes a man's weight to the sit bones of the buttocks.

Serious cyclists who lean forward in a racing position when they ride claim they need the nose to achieve more power and control.

"I don't think you can be a competitive rider and be protected from erectile dysfunction," says Goldstein. "They need that nose between their thighs, and that produces nerve and artery compression."

The evidence that riding a bicycle can be harmful to men is very persuasive, but it should be kept in perspective, says John M. Martinez, MD.

"If someone comes in and says, 'Should I not cycle because of the danger of erectile dysfunction?' I say, 'You have a 50% chance of developing and dying from heart disease, so your primary focus should be exercise and diet -- the two main components of fighting heart disease and ED,'" says Martinez, a primary care sports medicine physician and the medical director at Coastal Sports and Wellness Center, San Diego.

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