Think of your penis as an automobile tire,” says Dr. Kenneth A. Goldberg, the director of the Male Health Center in Dallas. But this is a tire that fills with blood instead of air. “When you become sexually stimulated, the flow of blood into the penis increases as much as eightfold, while the amount that escapes back into your body dramatically decreases,” he says. And then you get an erection. Congratulations.
Want to keep having strong ones well into your seventies? Then you have to ensure that nothing impairs the flow of blood, particularly arteriosclerosis – hardening of the arteries.
“Arteries are proportional to the size of the organ they serve,” says Goldberg, “and because the penis – at least in the men I know – is not as big as the heart, it’s more easily impacted by impaired blood flow. Erections are essentially vascular events.”
It’s not surprising, then, that the four primary risk factors for heart disease — diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels – also affect sexual potency. In fact, the correlation is so strong that impotence in young men is considered a predictor of heart disease. Research at Washington University in St. Louis has shown that 25 percent of men who see doctors for impotence suffer a heart attack or a stroke within five years of the problem’s onset.
“What’s going on below the waist,” says Dr. Richard Milsten, a urologist, and co-author of The Sexual Male, “is a reflection of what’s going on above it.”
USE IT OR LOSE IT
Contrary to popular belief, the penile tissue isn’t actually all that elastic. When cholesterol hardens in the arteries, it limits blood flow to the penis, which doesn’t receive the oxygen it needs to stay healthy, and the spaces that store blood during an erection may become permanently incapable of expansion, severely diminishing the elasticity of the penis.
The formula for guaranteeing firm erections despite the passage of years is simple: Improve blood flow by exercising, lowering your cholesterol, and having as many erections as possible – many, many erections. How much exercise is enough? “Do what’s good for your heart – 30 minutes of brisk exercise at least 3 times a week,” says Goldberg. In addition to helping you maintain potency, exercise also releases endorphins, the feel-good brain chemicals that boost your sex drive, reduce pain, and improve your mood. In an oft-cited study at the University of California at San Diego, 78 sedentary middle aged men were put on a vigorous 9-month program of aerobic exercise (one hour at least three times a week). It turned out that their frequency of inter- course jumped an average of 30 percent from their experience prior to the program – to at least three times a week. (The recommended number of orgasms you should have per week to ensure a healthy penis is too.)
As if you needed more incentive to keep your fiddle fit, consider the possibility that having more sex may actually help you live longer. A study of 918 men between the ages of 45 and 59 by England’s University of Bristol found that men with “high orgasmic frequency” were 50 percent less likely to have a fatal heart attack. “If you do the math, you find that a man may reduce his risk of heart attack by 36 percent if he increases his number of orgasms to 100 per year,” writes Milsten.