Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common source of frustration for men. Luckily, it’s also a treatable one.
From medications like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®) to forms of treatment such as psychotherapy, there are a range of options for treating erectile dysfunction and improving your sexual performance.
There’s also an aspect of ED treatment that’s less well known than medication: exercise. Much like the body’s other muscle groups, the pelvic floor muscles located close to your penis can be trained and strengthened, potentially improving your erections and sexual performance.
Below, we’ve looked at the most common erectile dysfunction exercises, as well as the effects they can have on your erection quality, sexual function and overall quality of life.
We’ve also discussed other evidence-based treatment options that you may want to consider if you’re one of the many guys affected by ED.
Erectile dysfunction is a form of sexual dysfunction in which you’re unable to get or maintain an erection that’s firm enough to have sex.
The severity of erectile dysfunction can vary. If you have severe ED, you might find it difficult or impossible to get an erection at any time. If you have a more mild form of ED, you may be able to get an erection but find it difficult to maintain it long enough to have satisfying sex.
Erectile dysfunction can be a long-term, ongoing sexual performance problem or a shorter-term issue that pops up from time to time.
Like many other sexual health issues, ED typically becomes more common with age. According to data from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, approximately 40 percent of men experience ED by the age of 40, with almost 70 percent of men affected by the age of 70.
In total, an estimated 30 million adult men in the United States of all ages and backgrounds are affected by some form of ED.
Erections are all about healthy blood flow. When you’re sexually aroused, your nervous system triggers an increase in blood supply to the corpora cavernosa -- a type of spongy erectile tissue inside your penis. As blood flows to this tissue, your penis becomes firmer and larger.
A variety of different factors can interrupt this process and either cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction.
Common physical causes of ED include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), chronic kidney disease, multiple sclerosis and injuries to the penis or surrounding tissue that affect blood flow and/or local nerve function.
Unhealthy habits, such as smoking, being physically inactive or drinking too much alcohol, can contribute to these health issues and potentially make ED worse.
Some medications, including those used to treat depression, high blood pressure and prostate cancer, can also cause ED as a side effect.
Even psychological factors, such as depression and sexual performance anxiety, can cause or contribute to ED.
Our guide to the causes of erectile dysfunction goes into more detail about these problems and the impact they can have on your erections and sexual function.
These medications belong to a class of drugs called PDE5 inhibitors. They work by dilating the blood vessels that supply the erectile tissue inside your penis, making it easier for blood to flow to this tissue when you’re sexually aroused.
While medication is the most common first-line treatment for ED, some research suggests that exercises can also help to improve sexual health and erectile function.
Most scientific research on the relationship between exercises and sexual performance can be divided into two categories.
The first involves research on specific exercises, such as pelvic floor exercises (also referred to as kegel exercises), that strengthen the muscles around the penis.
The second involves research on the effects of aerobic exercise, which can improve blood flow throughout the body.
Let’s start with the first category. In one study published in the urology journal BJU International, researchers looked at the effects of pelvic floor exercises on erectile health in a group of 55 men aged 20 and up with long-term erectile dysfunction.
The men were split into two groups. One group was instructed to perform pelvic floor exercises and make lifestyle changes, while the other was instructed only to make lifestyle changes.
The pelvic floor exercises were taught by a physiotherapist, and men were instructed to perform them on a regular basis over the course of the study.
After three months, the men treated with a combination of pelvic floor exercises and changes to their lifestyles had a significantly higher rate of recovery from ED than participants in the control group, suggesting that pelvic floor exercises could be an effective treatment for ED.
More recent scientific research has found that men affected by ED tend to have lower levels of pelvic floor muscle strength than their peers, suggesting that pelvic muscle function is involved in erections and sexual function.
In short, there’s fairly strong evidence that the local muscles around the penis play a major role in healthy erections, and that training them may help to treat and prevent ED.
So, what about exercise in general? Scientific research suggests that any form of exercise that improves cardiovascular health can also potentially improve erection quality.
For example, a meta-analysis published in 2011 found a strong link between aerobic exercises and improvements in erection quality for men with arteriogenic erectile dysfunction (ED caused by poor arterial blood flow).
Other scientific research also shows an association between physical activity and reductions in the severity of ED symptoms.
For example, a systematic review published in the journal Sexual Medicine found that exercise of at least 160 minutes per week over the course of six months reduced the severity of erectile dysfunction for men with hypertension, heart disease and other health issues.
In short, erectile dysfunction exercises do work, and exercise in any form is likely to help reduce the negative effects of ED. The more active you are, and the better conditioned your pelvic floor muscles are, the more likely it is you’ll be able to improve your erection quality.
The pelvic floor muscles are a sling-shaped group of muscles located underneath your genitals, bladder, and bowel. They originate from the pubic bone at the front of your body and attach to the bottom of your spinal column.
The muscles of your pelvic floor aren’t just involved in erections and sexual activity -- they also play a role in your bladder and bowel function. Whenever you pee, you relax your pelvic floor muscles, only to clench them as you finish to stop the flow of urine.
Pelvic floor exercises work just like other muscle exercises -- by increasing the strength of your pelvic floor muscles and enhancing their function.
Exercising the pelvic floor muscles is a simple process. You won’t need any special equipment to train these muscles, nor will you need to train your muscles intensely.
In fact, for most men, a few minutes of pelvic floor muscle exercises per day should be enough to produce real, noticeable benefits.
You can train your pelvic floor muscles using the following process:
Start by emptying your bladder. Relaxing your pelvic floor muscles can cause you to urinate. Because of this, it’s best to go to the bathroom before you start doing any pelvic floor exercises.
Tighten your muscles for 10 seconds. While seated, tighten your pelvic floor muscles and hold them in this position. Count to 10 while you keep your muscles tight, then relax your muscles while counting to 10 again. You can identify your pelvic floor muscles by tensing as if you need to stop peeing. You’ll feel the pelvic muscles “lift” into your torso as they’re tensed, causing your pelvic area to feel tighter than normal.
Repeat this process for 10 repetitions. After relaxing for 10 seconds, repeat step two for 10 repetitions in total. Take a break after you finish, then return to your normal daily routine.
Do these exercises three to five times a day. You’ll notice the best results from pelvic floor exercises if you complete them several times a day. Try to do these exercises after waking up, in the afternoon and before you go to bed.
These therapeutic exercises can be performed while seated or lying down. It usually takes six to 12 weeks of consistent training to notice improvements. Try doing these exercises while using your computer, watching TV or reading a book.
Like with other forms of exercise, it’s important not to overtrain your pelvic muscles. Avoid doing more than five sessions of training per day, as this may cause your muscles to become fatigued or injured.
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Pelvic floor exercises can help to increase your control over the muscles around your penis and potentially improve your erections. However, they’re not the only exercises worth doing if you’re affected by ED.
Since healthy erections are all about blood flow, any exercise that improves your cardiovascular health can also reduce your risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. You can do this by:
Briskly walking around your neighborhood
Walking or jogging on a treadmill at home or in the gym
Riding your bicycle or using a stationary exercise bike
Playing tennis, basketball or other moderate-intensity sports
Taking part in a boxing or martial arts session
Swimming laps or doing water aerobics
One simple way to reach this target is to set aside 30 minutes of time for daily exercise on every weekday. In addition to cardiovascular exercise, try to do at least two muscle training workouts a week, whether in the gym, at a yoga class or using your body weight at home.
In addition to improving arterial blood flow and reducing your risk of erectile dysfunction, regular exercise has plenty of other benefits. It can:
Lower your risk of developing heart disease
Help you to maintain a healthy body weight
Manage blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of diabetes
Lower your risk of developing some forms of cancer
Improve your moods, thoughts and mental health
Improve your sleep duration and quality
Increase your strength and muscle mass
Make it easier to quit smoking
Many of these benefits are indirectly linked to better erections and sexual function. Since regular exercise also increases your physical endurance, it could also improve your sexual performance by giving you extra stamina.
Both pelvic floor exercises and general physical activity are linked to real improvements in blood flow, erectile function and sexual health. However, being more physically active isn’t necessarily a guaranteed form of treatment for erectile dysfunction.
If you have erectile dysfunction, in addition to practicing pelvic floor exercises and living a more active lifestyle, it’s always best to talk to your healthcare provider about your options.
If you have moderate or severe ED that doesn’t get better with exercises alone, your healthcare provider may suggest using erectile dysfunction medication such as sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Levitra) or avanafil (Stendra).
These oral medications can be taken shortly before sex, making them helpful if you need some extra assistance getting or staying hard.
Our guide to the most common erectile dysfunction treatments and drugs goes into more detail about how ED medications work, as well as what you should know before using them.
Beyond using medication, ED often improves with changes to your lifestyle other than regular exercise. Simple things such as eat a balanced diet and limiting your alcohol intake can often help you to maintain normal erections and sexual performance.
If you smoke, kicking the habit can also improve blood flow throughout your body and make it easier to get and maintain an erection sufficient for sex.
Our guide to naturally protecting your erections shares other non-pharmacological techniques for improving your erections and sex life.
Scientific research on erectile dysfunction exercises generally shows that they work well, with pelvic floor exercises and cardiovascular workouts both worthwhile options for improving your sexual function.
If you have erectile dysfunction, it’s always best to talk to a licensed healthcare provider about your options. Using our telehealth platform, you can take part in an ED consultation online and, if appropriate, receive prescription medication to treat your symptoms.