As men enter their 30s and 40s, their sexual performance typically changes - and so does the quality of their erections. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Dr. Steven Lamm, author of The Hardness Factor, has identified eleven steps guys can take to keep their erections hard and long-lasting - and their sex lives satisfying.
Take Care of Your Ticker
The quality of your erections is related to the health of your blood vessels,
Dr. Lamm says.
"Keeping your cardiovascular system healthy is just as important for your sex life as it is for preventing a heart attack or stroke."
Watch Your Waistline
Keeping off excess weight isn't just about looking attractive - although that's a nice side benefit. How much body fat you have is the single best marker for cardiovascular trouble - including the kind that affects erections.
If your waistline is less than 34 inches, you're virtually certain to be carrying a low amount of body fat on your frame. And that means your chance of erectile dysfunction is lower.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep for less than seven hours a night, and you risk disrupting the ebb and flow of hormones that govern sex drive and sexual potency.
The last sleep cycles before you wake are when you get most of your REM, or dreaming, sleep. Erections are common during this sleep phase - which means by sleeping longer, you're getting more good, healthy blood flow to your penis.
Don't Pollute Your Body
If you smoke or use cocaine or other illicit drugs, erections problems are a virtual certainty.
Cigarettes, pot and cocaine damage the lining of your blood vessels, including those within your penis. And while we don't yet know the precise mechanism, even moderate consumption of alcohol (more than one drink a day) negatively affects the quality of erections.
Build Muscle Mass
Aerobic exercise is great for cardiovascular health and healthy erections, but weight-lifting is also critically important.
Yet some men overdo the aerobics part of the equation while under-doing the strength training - and wind up with erection trouble.
Adding muscle to your frame by doing two full-body resistance workouts per week raises your metabolic rate, helping to keep your body fat low and your energy high. What's more, those workouts boost your testosterone level, which boosts your sex drive and your sexual performance. Aerobic exercise alone can't do that.
Each resistance workout should challenge all the major muscle groups of your arms, trunk and legs. For each exercise, select a weight that you can lift 12 times in a row. If the final rep feels fairly easy, your muscles aren't working hard enough - which means you should add a few more pounds to the barbell or weight stack.
Have Sex on an Empty Stomach
When you eat a big meal, blood that you need to produce an erection gets shunted to the stomach. So it's best to avoid eating much for a couple of hours before you expect to have sex.
Do It More Often
For many men, more sex means stronger erections. That's because having sex boosts testosterone levels.
Even if you don't have sex, just having frequent erections may help keep you "keep the machinery working."
Each erection you have brings blood to the penis, bringing in nutrients and flushing away waste products.
Avoid Fatty Foods
Fatty foods elevate the level of triglycerides in your bloodstream. High triglyceride levels "stun" blood vessels, interfering with erections (which, of course, are all about rapidly responding blood vessels).
One good way to avoid high triglycerides (and to avoid weight gain) is to eat the so-called Mediterranean diet: lots of fish, along with fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.
Consider Taking Supplements
Several supplements seem to help with erections. The ones listed here are generally quite safe, but Dr. Lamm says it's best to check with your doctor before taking any of them.
Fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, is good for cardiovascular as well as neurological health.
Vitamins C and D, fish oil, coenzyme Q-10 and the pine bark extract pycnogenol have all been linked to stronger erections. Pycnogenol is both an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory - and it's also an antithrombotic, meaning that it helps prevent blood clots. Studies have shown it to be highly beneficial to blood circulation.
Vitamin D can significantly reduce cardiovascular risk, and it's hard to get enough D from food or exposure to sunlight.
Avoid Emotional Stress
In addition to making you less interested in sex, stress stimulates your sympathetic ("fight or flight") nervous system, rendering your blood vessels less responsive.
It's impossible to eliminate stress, of course, but you can up your exercise regimen and try meditation, biofeedback, or other stress-control techniques.
Talk to Your Doctor
If you've begun to notice that your erections aren't quite as stiff as they used to be, consult your doctor. In many cases, the problem is the result of diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, or another underlying disorder.
If treating the underlying disorder fails to end the potency problem, ask your doctor about taking Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra. The drugs are similar in terms of effectiveness and side effects, although Cialis lasts longer than the other two (and now there is a low dose form of Cialis that is taken on an everyday basis).
For unknown reasons, some men respond better to one than to the others. Your doctor might want to prescribe a couple of the drugs and then let you decide which works better for you.