July 8, 2006

Obesity and smoking raise impotence risk

Many of the same things that are good for a man's heart may also be good for his sex life, new research confirms.

Maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and getting regular exercise may all reduce the risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED), according to a study that followed more than 22,000 U.S. men for 14 years.

The findings, published in the Journal of Urology, help solidify evidence tying lifestyle choices to ED risk. They may also give men added incentive to make some changes for the better, said study co-author Dr. Eric B. Rimm of the Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston.

Among the men Rimm and his colleagues followed, those who were obese at the study's start were 90 percent more likely to develop ED than normal-weight men were. Similarly, smokers had a 50 percent greater risk than non-smokers.

On the other hand, regular exercise appeared to protect against erectile problems. Men who reported the highest exercise levels at the study's start were 30 percent less likely than their inactive peers to develop ED over the next 14 years.

At one time, Rimm noted in an interview, erectile problems were thought to be largely psychological. But it has become clear that heart disease and ED share many of the same risk factors, he said.

Anything that impairs blood vessel function and blood flow could affect erectile function, and it's known that certain medical conditions that raise the risk of heart disease -- like high blood pressure and diabetes - can also lead to ED.

Similarly, the lifestyle choices that affect cardiovascular health, like smoking and exercise habits, influence ED risk.

This knowledge may nudge more men to make lifestyle changes, Rimm said, since heart disease can seem a distant risk, but erectile problems may be more immediate. In addition, he said, with obesity rates climbing among young people, the ED risk associated with obesity may increasingly become apparent at relatively young ages.

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