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Why You Can't Get a Hard On

The lifestyle habits that may be to blame for erectile dysfunction.
Why You Can't Get a Hard On

Defined as experiencing difficulty having an erection at least 50 percent of the time, about 30 million men in the U.S. suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED), according to the National Institutes of Health. So, if odds are pretty good you’ll experience a failure to launch at some point in your life, take solace in this finding from the University of Adelaide: You can reverse ED by focusing on lifestyle factors, not just popping a blue pill.

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Dr. Paul Gittens, a board certified urologist, sexual medicine expert, and director of Philadelphia Center for Sexual Medicine adds, “ED is a complex bag of worms, but people can try to decrease their risk, or at least stop the progression of it with diet and exercise, in addition to determining and eliminating their risk factors." 

We scoured the latest research to uncover habits preventing you from getting a hard on, and consulted with Gittens on how to get on track—so you can get your, well, hard on, back.

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A 2014 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that men with severe erectile dysfunction had considerably lower vitamin D levels than men with mild ED. Get outside and enjoy the sunshine while you can, and feast on vitamin D-fortified cereals, juices, and breads, along with foods like eggs and salmon. 

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Erectile dysfunction may be a marker of undiagnosed diabetes, or it may be triggered by diabetes, according to results from a cross-sectional survey published in the Annals of Family Medicine. If you’re suddenly experiencing ED, consider getting screened. And if you already have diabetes, know it's a major risk factor.  

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You’ve heard of—and probably experienced—the numbing effect alcohol has on your mind, body, and (unfortunately) penis. If you fail to rise to the occasion on a regular basis and you're drinking has gone from occassional weekend binge to a Monday through Friday ordeal, consider cutting back—way back. Heavy drinking proportionately increases your risk of ED, according to research from the Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 

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Stress is another factor that can be a cause or effect of ED. If you're stressed at work, at home, and in your relationships, it's going to take a toll on your sexual function. Your mind is elsewhere, and relaxing when you finally make it between the sheets is a long shot. Now you’re stressed because you can’t get it up (talk about the ultimate catch-22), so you're stuck in this sad, frustrating cycle. “ED really affects the psyche of a guy, regardless of the etiology, Gittens says. “If you have a problem getting an erection one night, you’re probably going to be anxious and worried your partner might see you as less of a man the next time you try to get an erection.” There's a pill that will help with this, and it's not promoted on television with middle-aged men in sports cars. It's a damn chill pill.

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Forty-two percent of men who drink between two to three cups of coffee per day are less likely to report instances of erectile dysfunction, according to a study from the University of Texas Health Science Center. Caffeine helps relax arteries and the smooth muscle within the penis, which helps increase blood flow when and where you need it most. 

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How’s this for a win-win: The more sex you have, the less likely you are to suffer from erectile dysfunction, according to a 2008 study published in The American Journal of Medicine. Men aged 55-75 who reported having sex less than once per week had twice the incidence of erectile dysfunction (there were 79 cases of ED per 1,000) as men who have sex once a week (32 cases of ED per 1,000). But if you really want to up your odds, shoot for three times per week (only 16 cases of ED per 1,000). Can you really argue with science, or a perscription to have more sex?

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The more you puff, the more you put your penis at risk, according to a study from the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. The researchers examined 7,684 men between the ages of 35-74 and concluded about 23 percent of erectile dysfunction cases can be chalked up to cigarette smoking. This is probably the best motivator If you've been struggling to quit. 

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“Cardiovascular exercise and weight resistance exercises increase a man’s testosterone, which helps ward off ED,” Gittens says. The problem is, your testosterone levels drop as you age. Your levels now as a 25-year-old will drop about 50 percent by the time you're 75, according to data from the Reviews of Urology. To keep your levels high, check out this testosterone-boosting workout.

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"Data shows the longer you ride, the higher your chance of developing ED in terms of distance per week," Gittens says. If you cycle for exercise or socialization, you don't have to necessarily give it up, just make some modifications. Gittens suggests riding for shorter distances, giving yourself a rest every once in a while, finding a comfortable seat, and getting a bike that’s sized appropriately.  

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“Some medications like antihypertensives and antidepressants can cause erectile dysfunction, so I’ll try to get patients on more penile-friendly ones,” Gittens says. Talk to your doctor about your options. 

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