Male sexual function improves with exercise.

SAN FRANCISCO — Higher levels of exercise are associated with

lower levels of sexual dysfunction, according to a study of 178 healthy


Men who reported exercise of at least 9 metabolic equivalents

(METs) per week were 65% less likely to report sexual dysfunction. Brisk

walking for 30 minutes a day for 4 days per week is equivalent to about

9 METs, according to Dr. Erin R. McNamara of Duke University Medical

Center, Durham, N.C., who presented the results of her study at the


“If men won’t exercise for the cardiovascular benefits,

maybe they’ll exercise to have better sex,” Dr. McNamara said

at a news briefing.

The men in the study were all enrolled in a prospective

case-control study at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Their

mean age was 62 years, and their mean body mass index was 30.7


The sexual function survey consisted of six questions, asking men

to evaluate their ability to have an erection, the quality and frequency

of their erections, their ability to reach orgasm, their overall sexual

ability, and the extent to which they were bothered by their sexual

functioning. The investigators converted scores on the survey to a 0-100

scale. Overall, the participants’ mean sexual function score was


The men also were asked to assess their duration, intensity, and

frequency of exercise. The investigators converted these estimates to

MET hours per week. They classified men reporting fewer than 3 MET hours

per week as sedentary (53% of the sample), 3-8 MET hours as active (14%

of the sample), 9-17 MET hours as moderately active (9% of the sample),

and 18 or more MET hours as highly active (24% of the sample).

Mean sexual function scores were 42 for sedentary men, 50 for

active men, 72 for moderately active men, and 70 for highly active men.

The trend was statistically significant.

In a multivariate analysis, the investigators controlled for age,

race, BMI, heart disease, diabetes, medications, and depression. They

defined a sexual function score of less than 40 as sexual dysfunction.

Compared with sedentary men, those reporting moderate or high levels of

physical activity were 65% less likely to have sexual dysfunction.

In an interview, Dr. McNamara emphasized that her study

demonstrated only correlation, not causation. Asked to speculate on the

reason for the association, she said, “Just as exercise provides

cardiovascular benefit by increasing blood flow, we think the same thing

probably happens [with sexual function] because the penis is engorged

with blood vessels.” She also suggested that exercise may improve

sexual function as a psychological byproduct of improved feelings of



Major Finding: Exercise equivalent to 30 minutes of brisk walking

per day, 4 days per week, is associated with a 65% decrease in the risk

of sexual dysfunction.

Data Source: Study of 178 healthy men.

Disclosures: Dr. McNamara reported that she had no conflicts of

interest. The study was supported by the Department of Defense and the

Department of Veterans Affairs.

Men with moderate or high levels of physical activity were 65% less

likely to have sexual dysfunction.


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