Sometimes, problems with your erection aren’t exactly your fault. Genetics and certain health conditions—say, diabetes or heart disease—can make it hard to get hard, since problems that affect your blood vessels can run in families, says Ryan Berglund, M.D., a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic. And you need uncompromised blood flow to your penis to get a healthy erection.
Plus, while erectile dysfunction (ED) can hit guys at any age, the older you get, the higher your likelihood of developing sexual performance issues, he says.
Still, many of the factors that affect your penis health and your performance in the bedroom are under your control. And even if you’re prone to poor penis health due to things you can’t really change, you can boost your chances of a better erection by focusing on the things you can tweak.
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ERECTION BOOSTER: WAKE UP WITH COFFEE.
Your beverage of choice in the morning can play a role in how well you perform in the bedroom later that night.
Research from the University of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston found that men who consumed the caffeine equivalent of 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day were less likely to report ED issues than guys who steered clear of the stimulant.
The study authors say that caffeine has properties similar to Viagra. The stimulant helps the arteries in your penis to relax and your blood flow to increase—both factors necessary for a strong erection.
ERECTION BOOSTER: START SWEATING—BUT SWAP OUT YOUR SPIN SHOES
Cardio isn’t just great for your heart: Your penis benefits, too. Men who do regular aerobic exercise tend to have healthier blood vessels—which are crucial for erections—than overweight, sedentary men, says Dr. Berglund.
And the more intensely you exercise, the better your penis health seems to be: Men who worked out at least 18 “METS”—or metabolic equivalent of task, which takes into account both workout duration and intensity—a week reported better erectile function than more sedentary guys, a 2015 study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found. (For example, running for one hour at a 10-minute mile pace would give you a MET score of 9.8. Doing that twice a week would put you over the 18 MET mark.)
Exercise may help your body create a compound called nitric oxide, which helps you get and maintain an erection, the study authors told us.
Just consider that run over a ride: “Endurance cyclists who spend a long time on their bike seats may have more trouble with ED,” says Erin Michos, M.D., an associate professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Blame restrictive clothing and the shape of the seat, which may injure your perineum
ERECTION BOOSTER: EAT THESE FOODS - BERRIES, ORANGES, RED WINE, APPLES, AND PEARS.
According to a study from the UK of over 25,000 men, those who ate more than three servings a week of berries, oranges, red wine, apples, were 19 percent less likely to develop erectile dysfunction over the 10-year follow up than men who didn’t eat them.
Researchers suggest that compounds called flavonoids—which are abundant in these foods—can improve blood flow by making your arteries more flexible, in turn, helping your member, the study authors told us.
ERECTION BOOSTER: QUIT SMOKING (EVEN FOR A DAY).
You should be used to the refrain by now: Whatever’s good for your heart is good for your penis. That means quitting smoking is no exception.
In fact, in a study of over 2,800 smokers, researchers from Iran discovered that 25 percent of men who quit the habit reported an improvement in their erections one year sans cigs. In comparison, none of the guys who continued smoking experienced erection improvement—and seven percent of current smokers said their erections actually got worse during that year.
Cigarettes’ main ingredient, nicotine, is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it impairs the ability of the arteries in the penis to dilate, explains Dr. Berglund. And when blood flow to your penis is compromised, so is your erection.
Even one day off of smoking can clear nicotine from your system, allowing your blood vessels to dilate more, he adds. Still, you want to play the long game: Stub out the smokes for good.
ERECTION BOOSTER: CHILL OUT.
Stress is a serious sex-killer. Not only do stress hormones like cortisol inhibit your body’s ability to get an erection, but stress has a way of squashing intimacy, a huge part of a successful romp session, says Dr. Berglund.
In fact, the higher levels of cortisol men had, the lower their scores were on tests of sexual functioning, which includes things like how confident they were they could get an erection, how often their erections were hard enough for penetration, and how often was it difficult to maintain an erection during sex, a study from Japan found.
Your move: Download the app Calm ($9.99) and fire up their ‘7 days of calm’ series. Research from Carnegie Mellon University finds that just 25 minutes a day of meditation is enough to lower stress levels.
ERECTION BOOSTER: SKIP THE NIGHTCAP.
Booze might make you feel like you’re a sex machine; but your member will tell you differently. That’s because alcohol messes with the nerve function that creates an erection, explains Dr. Berglund.
It’s also a depressant, which means by the time you think you’ll be roaring and ready, you’ll likely simply be exhausted.
ERECTION BOOSTER: BRUSH UP
What’s going on in your mouth can affect you below the belt: Men with periodontal disease—or gum disease caused by a buildup of plaque—are about twice as likely to have ED than men with healthier gums, a review from Natureconcluded.
“Poor dental hygiene has been linked to increased inflammation in the body and with cardiovascular disease risk,” says Dr. Michos. That’s because chronic inflammation can damage the delicate cells in the inside of your blood vessels, which are critical for proper erectile function.
Still brushing with a stick you picked up at CVS? An analysis of 56 studies from medical research group Cochrane concluded that after three months, electric toothbrushes reduced dental plaque 21 percent more and gingivitis 11 percent more than manual brushes. Try the Oral-B Pro 1000.
Additional reporting by Alex Gardner and Ali Eaves
This article originally appeared on Men's Health.