When you get old, the first things to go are your knees – first your left knee, then your right knee, then your weenie. Most people see middle-aged or older men as guys with low sex drive who have trouble getting erections. For nearly 100 years, physicians took it for granted that diminished sexual function was a natural part of the aging process. While some comedians make jokes about it, failing sexual performance is a leading cause for depression and loss of joie de vivre (love of life) in aging men. The problem is no laughing matter to millions of older men.
Viagra revived the sexual stock of countless aging Romeos. Until Viagra came along, impotence (problem getting erections) was a social taboo men didn’t talk about. Although the problem is incredibly common, it strikes at the heart of manhood. No matter what you hear from women, you will not get any points if you can’t get an erection. Many women use erections as an emotional lie detector to help them find out if a man is really turned on by them. Erectile difficulties can send a relationship down the slippery slope in a hurry. Viagra, or the over-the-counter supplement yohimbine, can do wonders for many men. Others need more help. Topical medications, penile implants, injections or vacuum devices may help men with more serious erection problems. Unfortunately, these remedies are inconvenient, embarrassing and don’t work very well.
Exercise: Key to Sexual Health
Why take pills, injections or herbs when you can get the same effects with a few simple lifestyle changes? While Viagra treats the symptoms of erection problems, lifestyle changes get rid of the problem at the source and promote health. Not only that, exercising, eating right and not smoking improves your appearance, which makes you more sexually desirable.
Separate studies from Germany and Harvard found that regular exercise was the key to good sexual health. Exercise can often cure or prevent erection problems and make you look better at the same time – without Viagra or herbal stimulants. You get the added bonus of reducing blood pressure, decreasing blood insulin, cholesterol and triglycerides, cutting abdominal fat and improving insulin sensitivity (this makes insulin works better and improves the way you process carbohydrates).
German scientists, in a paper presented at the European Association of Urology Annual Meeting, found that putting men with erection problems on an exercise program was just as effective for improving erection capacity as taking Viagra. Erection problems often stem from abnormalities in the cells lining the blood vessels. Healthy cells secrete a chemical called nitric oxide, which is very important for delivering blood to the penis. Blood vessels of obese, out-of-shape men lose their capacity to control blood flow and get healthy erections.
In a study of more than 34,000 men, Harvard scientists found that regular exercise was the key to promoting lifelong sexual health in men ranging in age from 50 to 90. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, headed by Dr. Constance G. Bacon, conducted this study. About 30 percent of men reported moderate to severe problems having erections, which shows that sexual problems are common in aging men. The problem got worse with age and was particularly serious in men with prostate problems, diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease.
Lack of exercise was by far the most important risk factors predicting erection problems. The problem got worse with age; physical inactivity increased the risk of sexual problems in all age groups. Frequent vigorous exercise (the equivalent of running at least three hours per week or playing singles tennis five hours per week) lowered the risk of impotence by 30 percent over people who did no exercise.
Obesity, hours of watching television and cigarette smoking also caused sex problems in older men. Taking antidepressant medicines or beta-blockers (drugs for heart patients that slow the heart rate) caused erection problems in many men. Moderate drinking (two drinks a day or less) improved sexual function, but drinking more than that made things worse. Men who took testosterone supplements had a much lower incidence of erection problems, which suggests that hormone replacement therapy in aging men might be a viable option for promoting sexual health.
Men who had multiple heart disease risk factors – high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol or triglycerides, low HDL (good cholesterol), obesity, diabetes, family history – were particularly prone to sexual problems. Nitric oxide is a chemical that promotes blood flow to the penis and every other tissue in the body. The cells lining the blood vessels produce less nitric oxide when you don’t get enough exercise or have high blood fats, a poor diet, or high blood pressure. Consequently, you have less blood vessel control in the penis and have trouble getting erections. Fortunately, there are concrete steps you can take to improve your sexual health that will help you remain sexually active for a lifetime.
Lifetime Good Sex Plan
The lifetime good sex plan is simple and based on healthy lifestyle modification. The purpose of the program is twofold: to boost your metabolism by staying active every day and to maximize your testosterone levels. Healthy testosterone levels promote good sexual health.
Many aging men take testosterone supplements, however the best course is to boost testosterone naturally. Exercise and dietary habits can contribute to testosterone secretion. Avoiding overtraining and ensuring proper rest can help keep levels up. The following strategies will salvage your testosterone and promote a healthy reproductive system.
Exercise Every Day. Exercise at least 30-90 minutes a day. Include cardio, strength training and stretching. High-intensity exercise increases circulating testosterone levels. Intense weight training increases the number of active androgen receptors, which make the hormone work better. Exercise also helps maintain muscle mass, especially as you age. Higher muscle mass increases the number and activity of testosterone receptors in the body, which is essential to optimal testosterone metabolism.
Eat Enough Calories. Eat enough calories, but exercise hard and often enough, so you don’t get fat. Moderate exercise and low body fat boost testosterone. Low-calorie diets depress testosterone levels. People who go on starvation diets typically lose muscle mass. Preserve testosterone levels during weight loss by taking in at least 1,500-2,000 calories per day (average, depending on body size and activity level). For most people, this will create a small caloric deficit to aid weight loss without depressing testosterone.
Eat Enough Protein. Vegetarian diets also depress testosterone levels. Eating too much fiber in the diet and not taking in enough protein can also contribute to low testosterone levels. People interested in maximizing testosterone should eat 0.8-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (depending on activity level). Couch potatoes need less protein, while athletes need more. Specific amino acids, such as arginine, increase testosterone levels. Nutritionists often recommend that people eat less fatty foods and red meat. Staying away from red meat completely will decrease testosterone levels, which could impair sexual health. Don’t give up meat – eat leaner cuts instead. Avoid soy protein products because they lower testosterone levels.
Get Your Vitamins. Vitamins E and C increase testosterone levels and promote sexual health. Vitamin A and D deficiencies depress testosterone. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to get the vitamins you need.
Lose Weight If You’re Too Fat. Excess fat, particularly if carried in the abdomen, lowers testosterone and increases the risk of sexual problems. Decreasing fat through a sensible program of exercise and diet reduces abdominal fat and beefs up testosterone levels. In turn, higher testosterone levels help manage body fat. Testosterone increases nervous receptors and enzymes (such as hormone-sensitive lipase) that speed fat breakdown. It’s much like the old adage that the “rich get richer” – cutting fat increases testosterone, which makes it easier to cut fat some more. You’ll also look better, which will help you perform better in bed.
Don’t Overtrain. High-volume distance running depresses testosterone. Overtraining, regardless of sport or type of exercise, also depresses total and free testosterone levels and stimulates the production of catabolic hormones (causes tissue breakdown). Active people can avoid depressing testosterone by properly managing their training programs. This means cycling the volume and intensity of exercise and not becoming overtrained.
Get Enough Sleep, Minimize Harmful Stress. Overstressed people who don’t get enough sleep have lower testosterone and higher cortisol levels than low-stress people. Avoid needless stress that worries and frustrates you. That type of stress is going to make you sick and rob you of precious testosterone.
Think Like a Winner. Mental state has a profound effect on testosterone levels. Testosterone levels go up after winning an athletic contest, but go down after a loss. Assertive behavior followed by a rise in status leads to an increase in testosterone levels. Likewise, depression lowers testosterone. Symptoms of depression include low self-esteem, reduced mood, fatigue, low sex drive, insomnia, feelings of guilt, poor exercise and sports performance, and absence of pleasure.
Successful football coaches use a good strategy. They schedule some games they know they’re going to win. In life, set achievable short-term goals and knock them off one by one. Even the pros don’t play in the Super Bowl every week. Give yourself a break and conquer the ladder of success slowly, but surely. You will be rewarded with a full tank of testosterone, a positive winning attitude and a lifetime of sexual health.
Stay Sexually Active. Sexual activity and arousal are strong stimulators of testosterone production. Men who have sex often (at least three times a week) are healthier and happier than sexually deprived men.
Maintain Muscle Mass. Fit, well-nourished muscles have more androgen receptor sites, which helps maintain overall testosterone metabolism. Maintaining metabolically fit muscles also benefits the way your body handles insulin and fuels at rest and during exercise.
You can have good sex for your entire life if you stay fit, reduce body fat and don’t smoke cigarettes. Taking drugs, such as Viagra and testosterone, will boost sexual performance, but why not try changing your lifestyle first? You will feel and look better. You can always get help from your doctor, if necessary.
Bacon CG, Mittleman MA, Kawachi I, Giovannucci, Glasser DB, Rimm DB. Sexual Function in Men Older Than 50 Years of Age: Results from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Ann Intern Med 139: 161-168, 2003.
Bhasin S, Storer TW, Berman N, Yarasheski KE, Clevenger B, Phillips J, et al. Testosterone replacement increases fat-free mass and muscle size in hypogonadal men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 82: 407-413, 1997.
Bhasin S, Tenover JS. Age-associated sarcopenia – issues in the use of testosterone as an anabolic agent in older men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 82: 1659-1660, 1997.
Bhasin S. The dose-dependent effects of testosterone on sexual function and on muscle mass and function. Mayo Clin Proc 75 Suppl: S70-75; discussion S75-76, 2000.
Brooks GA, Fahey TD, Baldwin K, White T. Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and its Applications. Mt. View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co., 2000.
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