With Regular Exercise, You May Never Need Viagra

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 30, 2000 --The popular drug Viagra has improved the lives of millions, but regular exercise could make it obsolete, according to a report in the journal Urology.

In the first study of its kind, researchers showed that physically active men have a lower risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED) than inactive men, even if they don't begin exercising until midlife. But surprisingly, the study found that reducing tobacco and alcohol use and losing weight in midlife didn't reduce a man's risk of developing erectile dysfunction.

"Our study showed that men who burn 200 calories a day, often by walking briskly for about two miles, can lower their risk of ED significantly," says study co-author Irwin Goldstein, MD, a professor of urology at Boston University School of Medicine. "And men who burn more than 200 calories a day can lower their risk even more."

Defined as the inability to have or maintain an erection, erectile dysfunction affects over half of all men between 40 and 70 years of age, but isn't necessarily part of aging.

For their study exploring the effects of lifestyle changes on ED, Goldstein and colleagues interviewed nearly 600 healthy men ranging from 40-70 years of age. After their body mass was calculated, the participants were polled about their physical activity, smoking habits, alcohol use, and sexual function. Eight years later, the process was repeated.

Unlike regular exercise, smoking cessation, alcohol reduction, and weight loss in midlife didn't reduce the risk of developing erectile dysfunction, according to the study. "This suggests that midlife changes are too late to reverse their effects," Goldstein cautions, "and highlights the importance of adopting healthy behaviors early in life."

One of the major causes of erectile dysfunction is hardening of the arteries, which reduces the amount of blood that can enter and enlarge the penis. "That's why we say that good [heart] health is needed for good sexual health," says William Steers, MD, professor and chairman of urology at University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

"In fact, ED may be an early warning sign of a future heart attack or stroke," Steers tells WebMD. "So think about some other ways to reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes," he urges. For example, men should:

But even men who get started on a healthy lifestyle early in life may experience impotence occasionally. "Psychological factors like depression and anxiety can put the brakes on sexual function, but stress is probably a bigger issue," says Drogo Montague, MD, director of the Center for Sexual Function at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic and chairman of the American Urological Association's ED Guidelines Panel. "It can even lead to persistent difficulty, so look for ways to relax and clear your mind."

He also advises that men looking to avoid ED:

  • Get adequate sleep to reduce fatigue
  • Plan some time together with their partner, away from the kids
  • Avoid alcohol before sex

Also, "a common cause of permanent impotence is physical trauma like spinal cord injuries and pelvic fractures, so remember to wear your seat belt," Montague says.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.