“A lot of guys know their lifestyle is harming their health, but it isn’t until it begins to affect their sex life that they start to listen,” says Charles Walker, M.D., assistant professor of urology and cofounder of the Cardiovascular and Sexual Health clinic at Yale University. Low testosterone, a shoddy sex drive, and trouble getting the plane off the ground are all caused by high-risk behaviors that at some point become irreversible and turn into full-blown erectile dysfunction (ED), Dr. Walker says.
Here are eight habits you need to clean up if you want to keep your hard-on healthy.
1. Clean Your Medicine Cabinet
Certain antidepressants, some blood pressure medications, and even the popular hair-growth drug Propecia all list erection problems as potential side effects. But the most surprising culprit may be your allergy or cold medicine. “The mechanism behind an erection is the exact opposite of having an adrenaline rush, and Sudafed acts very similar to epinephrine—the adrenaline hormone—killing any ability to get aroused,” says Harry Fisch, M.D., clinical professor of urology and reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College/New York Presbyterian Hospital, and author of Size Matters. Read labels for any side effects, and stick to Sudafed-free prescriptions.
2. Leave Your Work At The Office
“Work-related stress is a huge issue for sexual function,” says Dr. Walker. “I see a lot of guys in their 40s and 50s who are highly successful but in high-stress jobs, and a lot of them have ED.” How come? Men with demanding jobs have a hard time leaving work at the office, which means their anxiety is in high gear for most of the day—keeping them from ever reaching full-throttle in the bedroom.
Plus, when you’re a workaholic, sleep and exercise—two big contributors to ED—tend to take a backseat. Knowing when to turn it off can help you get it up, Dr. Walker reassures. “Don’t work when you get home, don’t work on vacation, and incorporate more stress-relieving activities like exercise,” he advises.
3. Hit The Sack At A Reasonable Hour
Scoring more sleep is always important, but even a few late nights can stifle your stiffy: Researchers from the University of Chicago found that sleeping 5 hours or less tanked testosterone levels of young, healthy guys by 10 percent after only a few days. “Sleep affects free testosterone, the part that isn’t bound by proteins and is free to do what your body needs it to do, including support your libido and sexual function,” Dr. Walker explains.
Plus, the balance of brain hormones that have an effect on your erection—like dopamine and serotonin—are regulated by sleep. Solid shuteye is most important in younger guys, for whom low T plays a larger part in their ability to get it up, Dr. Walker adds. Aim for at least 6 hours a night, but 7 or 8 is ideal.
4. Brush Up
A 2012 Turkish study found that men with ED are three times more likely to have gum disease than guys without penis problems. And the odds go up the worse your impotence: The British Dental Health Foundation reports that 4 out of 5 men with severe erectile dysfunction also had gum disease. What does your mouth have to do with it? As your teeth decay, your immune system attacks pathogens in your mouth. The bacteria then seep into your bloodstream, damaging blood vessels and blood flow, the researchers explain. Luckily, regular flossing and brushing (twice a day!) can help more than just your gums.
5. Keep The Booze Under Control
Knocking back a few beers may calm your nerves enough to talk to the cute girl at the bar, but it might ruin the ending you had planned: A University of Washington study found that drunk dudes put more effort into getting it up and still saw softer results than sober seducers. Even if you don’t have problems performing now, heavy drinking can impair your sexual performance down the road, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, which found reformed alcoholics were more likely to have ED than their clean counterparts. Plus, alcohol is a depressant, so you’re not only less likely to get aroused, but also more exhausted—probably too tired to put in the effort, says Fisch. Fortunately, you just need to dial back on your nightly intake: Most performance problems are linked with heavy alcohol use, so cut yourself off after two drinks.
6. Fire Your Mistress
You know that crushing guilt you feel when you’ve been unfaithful? Eventually, the guilt will turn to anxiety, and anxiety produces chemical changes in the brain that attack your ability to have an erection, says Dr. Walker. High levels of anxiety turn your sympathetic nervous system on overdrive, putting you in a prolonged state of fight or flight, meaning it’s hard to even calm down enough to get aroused. Anxiety also halts the release of the neurotransmitters in charge of stimulating an erection, he says.
7. Stop Cradling Your Laptop
Laptops generate a tremendous amount of heat, and anything that warms the testicles too much can decrease your sperm count and testosterone levels, says Dr. Fisch. The cells in the testicles that produce your swimmers and hormones are heat-sensitive, which is why the scrotum is outside the body to start with. (Your balls function a few degrees below body temperature). Perching your PC over your junk can possibly affect T production, messing with your ability to get an erection, Dr. Fisch says.
8. Kick Your Nicotine Addiction
“Everyone knows smoking is bad for your health, but most people don’t realize there is a direct relationship between cigarette smoking and ED,” says Dr. Walker. Doing it can damage the lining of your blood vessels, which affects the smooth muscle in your penis and inhibits blood from flowing in, he explains. How important is it to kick the habit? Men who gave up cigarettes for 8 weeks had thicker, more rigid erections and reached max arousal five times faster than their smoking friends who relapsed, according to a 2011 study in the British Journal of Urology International. These improvements were not seen, however, until after the men had ditched the nicotine patches, suggesting it’s not just smoking that can hurt your rock, but nicotine itself.