Excessive exercise doesn’t cause erectile dysfunction (ED), but it can increase certain health risks.

While regular exercise has many well-known health benefits, excessive exercise may have some health risks.

Some research suggests excessive exercise may increase the risk of bone health issues, nutritional deficiencies, and low testosterone levels.

But there’s no evidence suggesting that too much exercise causes erectile dysfunction (ED). In fact, research shows that lack of exercise can cause ED.

Here’s what the research says about exercise and ED, including causes, precautions, and when to seek medical help.

The simple answer is no, exercise doesn’t cause ED. Research shows the opposite is true: a lack of exercise can cause ED.

A 2018 review found strong evidence across a variety of studies showing that physical inactivity can cause ED. Another review from 2012 showed that physical inactivity is a primary cause of many chronic diseases, including ED.

One reason is that erectile function is linked to cardiovascular health. Lack of exercise or a sedentary lifestyle can lead to decreased blood flow, which is a key factor in getting or maintaining an erection.

Growing evidence suggests exercise can also help prevent and improve ED:

  • A 2018 review found strong evidence in more than 10 studies that regular physical activity improves erectile difficulties in men with ED.
  • A large study from 2003 of more than 31,000 men showed a reduced risk of ED in men who exercised regularly.
  • A 2017 review found regular weekly aerobic exercise of moderate to vigorous intensity helped improve ED.

Researchers believe exercise improves ED through several different mechanisms in the body. This includes improved cardiovascular fitness, decreased oxidative stress, and increased glucose and lipid metabolism.

Sports and ED

Although research shows that exercise is beneficial for ED, some research suggests certain sports may be associated with ED.

A 2019 review found an association between ED and sports with high rates of head injuries, such as American football.

In addition, certain sports like football, basketball, and volleyball have been linked to increased risk of varicocele. This condition occurs when the veins in the scrotum become enlarged. As a result, it may cause low sperm production and decreased sperm quality.

Some studies suggest cycling may be associated with ED.

A 2020 review of six studies involving more than 3,000 cyclists found a positive correlation between cycling and ED after adjusting for age and other comorbidities (coexisting conditions).

An older 2010 study found a similar association, suggesting that riding on a bicycle seat for long periods of time can compress the nerves in the perineum, leading to reduced blood flow in the penis.

Another study of more than 400 cyclists suggested that certain bicycle characteristics were associated with an increased risk of ED. For example, people who used mountain bicycles had a higher risk than people who used road bicycles. People who used handlebars positioned higher than the saddle also had a higher risk.

But this research generally applies only to intensive sports cycling over long distances, not recreational cycling.

A note on vitamins and supplements

Many people who exercise frequently use specially marketed vitamins and supplements that claim to support weight loss and build muscle. But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t closely track the safety of vitamins and supplements.

The potential exists for them to contain other substances—or incorrect amounts of listed substances—that are harmful to health, including those that can contribute to infertility or sexual dysfunction (when you’re facing significant challenges related to your ability to experience pleasure or respond sexually), such as low libido and ED. It’s suggested to speak with a healthcare professional before taking any vitamins or supplements.

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People with ED will benefit from regular weekly exercise that involves 30 minutes of physical activity on all or most days of the week.

Options include walking, hiking, running, swimming, sports, and even cycling.

If you choose to cycle, try to take these steps to avoid any difficulties:

  • Select a wide seat that has adequate padding, such as a gel-filled seat.
  • Avoid tilting the seat forward.
  • Position the handlebars higher than the seat.
  • Check that the seat height is correct. Your legs shouldn’t extend completely at the bottom of each pedal stroke.

Other general precautions for exercising include:

  • speaking with a doctor about an appropriate exercise routine for you, based on your overall health
  • taking time to warm up and cool down
  • staying hydrated by drinking fluids
  • avoiding overexerting yourself and ease up when needed
  • avoiding exercising in hot weather (consider exercising early in the morning or later in the evening when the weather is cooler)

ED is common and may not be a cause for concern if you experience it only occasionally or temporarily. In some cases, ED may be related to issues like stress or fatigue, which may resolve on their own.

But if you experience ED that persists or lasts longer than a few weeks, try to see a doctor or other healthcare professional. They can assess your overall health to determine whether ED may be a sign of a more serious health condition that requires treatment.

Occasional or temporary ED is often caused by stress, tiredness, or drinking alcohol. It can also be a side effect of certain medications, such as:

  • blood pressure medications
  • antidepressants
  • sedatives
  • appetite suppressants
  • ulcer medications

ED that persists can be caused by conditions or procedures, such as:

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • hormone problems
  • multiple sclerosis
  • heart disease
  • atherosclerosis
  • chronic kidney disease
  • injury to the penis prostate, bladder, or pelvis
  • injury caused by prostate cancer treatments
  • surgery for bladder cancer

Emotional or psychological issues can also cause or worsen ED, including:

Other factors or behaviors that can contribute to ED include:

It’s worth noting that the effects of weight discrimination can also contribute to negative health effects.

Limited research shows an association between ED and certain sports, such as football and sports cycling. Yet, there’s no evidence to suggest excessive exercise causes ED.

In fact, research shows that physical inactivity can cause ED. Recent evidence suggests regular aerobic exercise can even improve and prevent ED.

Speak with a doctor if you’re concerned about ED. They can help find the cause and recommend an effective treatment.