Erectile Dysfunction (ED) and Prolonged Sitting: What’s The Link?

Recently we have heard many times that sitting is the new smoking. 

Sedentary behavior has numerous effects on men’s health, such as prostate issues, low testosterone, and fertility issues.

But how does sitting for long periods affect your erectile function? Keep reading to find out.

Effects of prolonged sitting on men’s health

It may increase prostate cancer aggressiveness

Prolonged sitting is one of the most common signs of sedentary behavior. When not accompanied by breaks or exercise, it favors obesity and many cancers, including prostate cancer

Studies show that physical inactivity does not trigger prostate cancer by itself. However, prostate cancer is more aggressive in physically inactive people with more adipose tissue.

It causes symptoms similar to chronic prostatitis

Chronic prostatitis symptoms include pelvic pain, urinary urgency, increased urinary frequency, nocturia, and pain in the groin or lower back. 

Young males with excessive sitting sometimes experience these symptoms, and they don’t necessarily have prostatitis.

It decreases sperm quality and may affect fertility rates

Males who sit for a very long time every day may display sperm quality problems. There have been reports of poor sperm quality, changes in sperm morphology, and a longer time to achieve their partner’s pregnancy in men who sit for prolonged periods.

It may decrease testosterone levels in males

A sedentary lifestyle is typically associated with lower free testosterone. More sedentary time is associated with obesity, posing severe health risks and reducing testosterone levels. This problem usually improves by incorporating exercise into the routine.

It increases the risk of erectile dysfunction

A prolonged sitting time has been shown to worsen erectile dysfunction in some patients. For example, patients with insulin resistance and diabetes have a greater risk of erectile problems. 

The same is expected in patients with metabolic syndrome and other glucose metabolism problems.

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How sitting for long periods can contribute to erectile dysfunction

As noted above, studies have found associations between sitting for long periods and erectile dysfunction. However, the mechanism behind this association is still not clear. 

We know that sitting for long periods may cause alterations in different biomarkers regardless of physical activity. 

Some of them have consequences in erectile function. For example:

Testosterone levels

We mentioned above that prolonged sitting is associated with lower testosterone levels. This hormone is essential to maintain libido and facilitate erectile function.

Lipoprotein lipase activity (LPL)

There are stem cells in the body called stromal precursors. They convert into fat cells or skeletal muscle cells depending on the stimuli. 

High LPL is a sign of an increased conversion into fat cells, increasing inflammation and promoting fat deposition. Altogether, these changes affect erectile function, especially in patients with a higher risk.

Lipid panel

Studies also show that sitting for a long time increases triglyceride levels and reduces HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). These changes promote atherosclerosis and affect vascular function. 

Patients with atherosclerosis in the penile tissue have problems achieving erections due to a reduction of the blood flow to the penis.

We can say that sedentary behavior and sitting for very long periods affect endothelial function by multiple pathways. 

Patients who already have blood vessel and circulation problems are more likely to undergo erectile issues if they sit behind a desk all day.

Natural ways you can limit the effects of sitting

Many doctors have adopted the term “sitting disease” for all of the above, referring to the multiple consequences of prolonged sitting. 

If you want to counter this problem, here are some recommendations for you:

  • If you work at a desk and you’re able to, replace your regular desk with a standing desk. You can also buy an adjustable desk or a desktop riser to alternate between sitting and standing.

  • Engage in regular exercise before and after sitting for long periods. For example, you could walk every morning before work and do some weight training or play sports in the afternoon. The minimal physical activity recommendation for adults is 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

  • Where possible, sit on a Feagar seat or donut cushion to reduce the heat and the impact on your groin.

  • Take regular breaks from your sitting work.

Conclusion

Many of us regularly engage in sedentary activity and sit for too long. Studies show that doing so affects insulin sensitivity, raises your blood sugar, and leads to chronic disease. 

It affects men’s health in many ways, such as by reducing testosterone levels and triggering symptoms of chronic prostatitis.

There’s also an increased risk of erectile dysfunction, especially in patients with a baseline ailment such as diabetes. The mechanism behind this association is still not clear. But it is probably due to a reduction in testosterone levels combined with alterations in the blood flow and lipid panel. 

Daily physical activity and combining between sitting and standing may reduce the incidence of cardiovascular complications and erectile dysfunction in these patients. 

Assessing the risk is essential if you already have erectile dysfunction symptoms to determine the cause and guide your treatment.

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Sources

  1. Wheeler, M. J., Dunstan, D. W., Ellis, K. A., Cerin, E., Phillips, S., Lambert, G., … & Green, D. J. (2019). Effect of morning exercise with or without breaks in prolonged sitting on blood pressure in older overweight/obese adults: Evidence for sex differences. Hypertension, 73(4), 859-867. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30782027/ 
  2. Berger, F. F., Leitzmann, M. F., Hillreiner, A., Sedlmeier, A. M., Prokopidi-Danisch, M. E., Burger, M., & Jochem, C. (2019). Sedentary behavior and prostate cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Cancer Prevention Research, 12(10), 675-688. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31362941/ 
  3. Gao DJ, Guo YS, Yu HY, Wang YJ, Cui WG. [Prevalence and related factors of prostatitis-like symptoms in young men]. Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. 2007. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18284056/ 
  4. Figà‐Talamanca, I., Cini, C., Varricchio, G. C., Dondero, F., Gandini, L., Lenzi, A., … & Patacchioli, F. R. (1996). Effects of prolonged autovehicle driving on male reproductive function: a study among taxi drivers. American journal of industrial medicine, 30(6), 750-758. https://europepmc.org/article/med/8914722 
  5. Hayes, L. D., Herbert, P., Sculthorpe, N. F., & Grace, F. M. (2017). Exercise training improves free testosterone in lifelong sedentary aging men. Endocrine connections, 6(5), 306-310. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28515052/ 
  6. Furukawa, S., Sakai, T., Niiya, T., Miyaoka, H., Miyake, T., Yamamoto, S., … & Miyake, Y. (2017). Self-reported sitting time and prevalence of erectile dysfunction in Japanese patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: The Dogo Study. Journal of Diabetes and its Complications, 31(1), 53-57. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27836682/ 

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