Exercise Linked to Better Erectile, Sexual Function in Men

Susan London

March 25, 2015

Men who engage in a high level of physical activity report better erectile and sexual function regardless of their race, according to the first study of this association in a racially diverse population.

Results of the cross-sectional study, published online March 20 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, indicate that the benefit was significant only for those logging at least 18 metabolic equivalent (MET) hours of activity weekly, an amount translating to 2 hours of strenuous exercise such as running or swimming, 3.5 hours of moderate exercise, or 6 hours of light exercise.

"Collectively, our study along with the prior studies provide support that a minimum level of exercise is needed to be associated with better erectile/sexual function and that threshold is around 18 MET hours/week," write the researchers, led by Ross M. Simon, MD, from the Duke Prostate Center, Division of Urology, Department of Surgery and Pathology, Duke University School of Medicine, and the Urology Section, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina.

"These data support future randomized trials to test the use of high levels of exercise (≥18 MET hours/week) to improve erectile and sexual function," they maintain.

Race did not influence the association between physical activity and erectile/sexual function, suggesting black men and nonblack men derived similar benefit. "[T]hese data suggest that trials focused on exercise as a means to improve erectile/sexual function should include a racially diverse population with significant [erectile dysfunction] risk factors," the researchers recommend.

The team studied 295 healthy male veterans who participated in a study assessing risk factors for prostate cancer. The men had a median age of 62 years, and almost one third were black. The median body mass index was 30.5 kg/m2, 39% had type 2 diabetes, and 36% had coronary artery disease.

On the basis of self-reported weekly physical activity, 44% of the men were classified as sedentary (<3 MET hours/week), 17% as mildly active (3 - 8.9 MET hours/week), 13% as moderately active (9 - 17.9 MET hours/week), and 26% as highly active (18 or more MET hours/week).

The median erectile/sexual function score was 53.4 points on a 100-point scale created from the Expanded Prostate Cancer Index Composite sexual assessment, indicating a modest level of function. However, scores increased significantly with physical activity, ranging from 33.4 in the sedentary group to 70.0 in the highly active group.

In a multivariate analysis, highly active men had an erectile/sexual function score that was 17.3 points higher than that of sedentary counterparts, exceeding the cutoff of 16.5 points for a clinically significant difference. Lower levels of activity conferred smaller, nonsignificant benefit.

The authors note several study limitations, including lack of data on possible confounders, such as socioeconomic status and medications, and a focus on only current physical activity as opposed to cumulative amount over time.

"Although these factors limit the interpretation of our results, the level of exercise associated with better erectile/sexual function is comparable with that of previous population studies examining the association between exercise and [erectile dysfunction]," they note.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

J Sex Med. Published online March 20, 2015. Abstract

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