How Men Might Prevent a Decline in Sexual Function

IT'S WELL established that advancing age often goes hand in hand with a reduced ability to achieve and maintain an erection as well as reach orgasm. But Harvard researchers may have identified a number of things influencing sexual function that are in men's control.

They went over the records of more than 30,000 men ages 53 to 90 who had been asked questions about the quality of their erections and their ability to reach orgasm in addition to their lifestyle habits. The investigators found that those who exercised vigorously as well as stayed relatively lean throughout the later decades of life were more likely to retain sexual function than men who were sedentary and weighed more. Not smoking (or quitting smoking) and watching very little television was also associated with an improvement in their odds of being able to sustain an erection.

Specifically, men whose exercise frequency and intensity was the equivalent of running at least 3 hours a week had 30 percent less risk for erectile dysfunction than men who got little to no exercise. (Men who exercised but not as rigorously reduced their risk by 10 percent.) And a 5-foot, 9-inch man who weighed 155 pounds was a good 20 percent less likely to have erectile dysfunction than a man of the same height who weighed at least 195. Similarly, men who watched television for no more than 1 hour a week were at least 20 percent less apt to experience erectile dysfunction than men who watched more than 20 hours a week. The reduced odds for erectile problems were similar for nonsmokers and past smokers.

The researchers comment that staying physically active, remaining lean, and not smoking also reduce the risk for heart disease, noting that the vascular mechanisms underlying erectile function may have some "shared pathways" with those for cardiovascular problems. They point out, too, that their study does not show cause-and-effect for lifestyle measures that help men retain sexual function. It shows only apparent links. But statistically speaking, the links were significant.

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