Lots of guys coast on health autopilot until something they really care about takes a hit. And for many guys, that’s their penis.
“A lot of guys know their lifestyle is harming their health, but it isn’t until it begins to affect their sex life that they start to listen,” says Charles Walker, M.D., assistant professor of urology and cofounder of the Cardiovascular and Sexual Health clinic at Yale University.
Thankfully, you play a big role in how properly your penis functions. Follow these 10 simple tips to protect your penis and ward off erectile dysfunction for good.
(Still worried you’re falling limp in the bedroom? The Men’s Health Guide to Erectile Dysfunction will take you through what’s causing your ED and help you get back to getting busy.)
Certain antidepressants, blood pressure medications, narcotic pain relievers, and antihistamines can cause problems with your erection.
But even over the counter meds might be causing you to droop. One of the most surprising culprits? Your allergy or cold medicine.
“The mechanism behind an erection is the exact opposite of having an adrenaline rush, and Sudafed acts very similar to epinephrine—the adrenaline hormone—killing any ability to get aroused,” says Harry Fisch, M.D., clinical professor of urology and reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College/New York Presbyterian Hospital, and author of Size Matters.
Read labels for any side effects, and stick to Sudafed-free prescriptions. If any prescription meds are causing you to fall flat, talk to your doctor about a possible substitution.
Keep your gut in check
Straining your belt could put your penis at risk, too. Men with a waist circumference of 39 inches or greater are more than twice as likely to have erectile dysfunction as those with waists below 35 inches.
A high waist circumference indicates higher levels of harmful visceral fat. And visceral fat is linked to lower testosterone and more inflammation, both factors which can hurt your penis.
Kick those butts
“Everyone knows smoking is bad for your health, but most people don’t realize there is a direct relationship between cigarette smoking and ED,” says Dr. Walker.
Doing it can damage the lining of your blood vessels, which affects the smooth muscle in your penis and inhibits blood from flowing in, he explains.
In fact, guys who smoke are 51 percent more likely to experience ED than men who don’t puff on cigs, a meta-analysis from China concluded.
How important is it to kick the habit? One year after quitting, 25 percent of ex-smokers reported improvement in their erections. During that same time period, not one current smoker said their erections got any better, a study from Iran found.
Leave your work at the office
“Work-related stress is a huge issue for sexual function,” says Dr. Walker. “I see a lot of guys in their 40s and 50s who are highly successful but in high-stress jobs, and a lot of them have ED.”
How come? Men with demanding jobs have a hard time leaving work at the office, which means their anxiety is in high gear for most of the day—keeping them from ever reaching full-throttle in the bedroom.
Get quality shuteye
Scoring more sleep is always important, but even a few late nights can stifle your stiffy: Researchers from the University of Chicago found that sleeping 5 hours or less tanked testosterone levels of young, healthy guys by 10 percent after only a few days.
“Sleep affects free testosterone, the part that isn’t bound by proteins and is free to do what your body needs it to do, including support your libido and sexual function,” Dr. Walker explains.
Plus, the balance of brain hormones that have an effect on your erection—like dopamine and serotonin—are regulated by sleep.
Solid shuteye is most important in younger guys, for whom low T plays a larger part in their ability to get it up, Dr. Walker adds. So avoid these 10 Surprising Things That Are Screwing Up Your Sleep.
And aim for at least 6 hours a night, though 7 or 8 is ideal.
Brush up your pearly whites
A study from Turkey found that men with ED are three times more likely to have gum disease than guys without penis problems.
And the odds go up the worse your impotence: The British Dental Health Foundation reports that 4 out of 5 men with severe erectile dysfunction also had gum disease.
As your teeth decay, your immune system attacks pathogens in your mouth. The bacteria then seep into your bloodstream, damaging blood vessels and blood flow, the researchers explain.
Luckily, regular flossing and brushing (twice a day!) can help more than just your gums.
Keep the booze under control
A University of Washington study found that drunk dudes put more effort into getting it up and still saw softer results than sober seducers.
Even if you don’t have problems performing now, heavy drinking can impair your sexual performance down the road, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. It found reformed alcoholics were more likely to have ED than their clean counterparts.
Plus, alcohol is a depressant, so you’re not only less likely to get aroused, but also more exhausted—probably too tired to put in the effort, says Dr. Fisch.
Fortunately, you just need to dial back on your nightly intake: Most performance problems are linked with heavy alcohol use, so cut yourself off after two drinks.
Work up a sweat
You know exercise is important to erections, but an easy jog might not be enough to reap the benefits: You might have to crank up the intensity.
A study in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension found that when men with high blood pressure and ED completed an 8-week interval training program, they experienced better quality erections than those who didn’t exercise.
The researchers believe that this type of exercise can reduce markers of inflammation in your body, which can help your blood vessels function more efficiently.
Avoid any on-the-side action
You know that crushing guilt you feel when you’ve been unfaithful? Eventually, the guilt will turn to anxiety, and anxiety produces chemical changes in the brain that attack your ability to have an erection, says Dr. Walker.
High levels of anxiety turn your sympathetic nervous system on overdrive, putting you in a prolonged state of fight or flight, meaning it’s hard to even calm down enough to get aroused.
Anxiety also halts the release of the neurotransmitters in charge of stimulating an erection, he says.
Stop cradling your laptop
Laptops generate a tremendous amount of heat, and anything that warms the testicles too much can decrease your sperm count and testosterone levels, says Dr. Fisch.
The cells in the testicles that produce your swimmers and hormones are heat-sensitive, which is why the scrotum is outside the body to start with. (Your balls function a few degrees below body temperature).
Perching your PC over your junk can possibly affect T production, messing with your ability to get an erection, Dr. Fisch says.