Sexual dysfunction and erectile dysfunction are common issues among aging men, but it's not as common to openly discuss them.
In a new study led by researchers from the University of Bergen (UiB), the potential connection between sexual function, risk factors for cardiovascular disease, exercise, and muscle strength has been examined. The results were recently published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.
The study used data from the RHINE study, looking at respiratory health in Northern Europe. Additionally, a special questionnaire based on the Aging Males’ Symptom Scale (AMS scale) was employed. A total of 2116 men aged 45-75 from Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Estonia answered questions about sexual performance, morning erections, libido, and the extent to which they experienced a decline in muscle strength.
Challenging the taboos
The questionnaire was designed to capture symptoms typical of aging men, who often experience a decline in the testosterone level as they get older.
– Previous studies have shown that men around the age of 55 can expect to have approximately 15 more years of sexual activity. Men in good health can add 6-7 years to this figure, says first author Anders Flataker Viken.
He is a physiotherapist and department engineer at UiB. He and co-author Randi Jacobsen Bertelsen believe the topic is taboo and discussed less compared to, for example, women's menopause.
– Particularly, reduced erectile function is something that negatively affects men's psychosocial health. Some men may have difficulties seeking help if they begin to struggle with this, says Viken.
It is known from previous research that good fitness prevents declines in sexual function and the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, the research literature is more limited when it comes to muscle strength.
The main findings of the study indicate that factors such as age, BMI, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking increase the risk of sexual dysfunction. At the same time, those who maintained muscle strength had a lower risk.
– You can't do anything about your age. But you can address both high BMI, high blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes. Avoiding these conditions seems to be positive for maintaining sexual function throughout life, says Viken.
Active smoking appeared to be among the most negative factors.
– The best scenario is if you've never smoked. Current smoking was the worst, but previous smoking also played a role. This corresponds with what we know from previous research about these factors, says Viken.
Muscle strength most important
The study found that the most significant protective factor for sexual function was maintaining your muscles. Following WHO's recommendations to exercise at least three times a week with high intensity is also considered beneficial.
– Those who reported to have their muscle strength intact were better at working out or active enough to prevent muscle strength to decline, says Viken.
This supports findings from previous studies suggesting that muscle mass and erectile function could be related. This may be because skeletal muscle indirectly protects blood vessels and structures in the erectile tissue, according to research.
A strength with this study, according to the researchers, is that the data was collected in four different countries and analyzed at each of the centers. This is also the first study to address decreased sexual function in aging men across four Nordic-Baltic countries.
– Based on these findings, we suggest that high-resistance training to maintain muscle strength should be included in the clinical treatment of middle-aged and older men struggling with declining sexual function and erectile dysfunction.
Click here to read the full article in the Journal of Clinical Medicine: