Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects between 20 and 30 million men in the United States. Most men over 40 encounter episodic erectile dysfunction at one point or another during their lives—and about one in 10 will experience ED as an ongoing or long-term problem. But you can live a perfectly healthy life while undergoing treatment or therapy for ED. In fact, prioritizing your health may even make treatment more effective. Love your heart. You might not immediately make a connection between your erectile dysfunction and the status of your cardiovascular system, but ED can be a warning sign of developing heart problems. Atherosclerosis occurs when plaques build up on the walls of your blood vessels, causing them to narrow. This makes it harder for blood to pass through the vessels, and it can cause a heart attack. The effects of this narrowing of the blood vessels can show up in the penis first. If not diagnosed or treated, the condition may occur in other parts of your body—and could lead to a heart attack or stroke. So, it’s definitely worth talking to your doctor about your possible risks. Your doctor may want to check your blood pressure or perform a stress test to gauge how you’re doing. You may also need to alter your diet and exercise more, especially if you’re overweight, to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Eat right. Eating a healthy diet isn’t just good for your cardiovascular system—it’s good for your entire body. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake of sodium, salt, sugar and saturated fat, but you can load up on all the good stuff, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fish, legumes, nuts and seeds and low-fat or fat-free dairy can also make regular appearances on your plate. Another good rule of thumb: keep your total calorie intake in mind, so that ideally you’re burning off the calories that you consume, which will help you avoid gaining extra weight. One way to do that is to carefully monitor your portion sizes so you’re not eating more than you think you are. Take the appropriate medications. If you’re taking any medication—whether it’s for ED or any other health condition—make sure you’re not unintentionally making your situation worse. Make sure your ED medication is the right one for you. Sometimes when you have ED, your doctor will recommend that you take one of the common prescription medications used to treat the condition, such as sildenafil citrate, vardenafil HCI, or tadalafil. These work by increasing blood flow to the penis. But these medications might not be the best option for you if are already taking a medication containing nitrates, like nitroglycerine for chest pain. The combination can cause your blood pressure to drop dangerously low. Make sure your other medications aren’t contributing to your ED. A number of prescription drugs often cause erectile dysfunction, most notoriously antidepressants, antihistamines, and diuretics and medications for treating high blood pressure. But other medications have also been known to put an unwelcome damper on your ability to sustain an erection, such as anti-seizure meds, muscle relaxers, certain types of chemotherapy drugs and even that staple of nearly every medicine cabinet, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Speak up if something seems off. Don’t ignore new symptoms or side effects, but don’t stop taking your medication on your own. Talk to your doctor and discuss whether you might need to switch to different prescription drug. Exercise. Like a healthy diet, a regular exercise routine can provide a myriad of benefits. It can keep your weight in check, it can boost your energy levels, and it can lower your cholesterol levels. You can increase your strength and flexibility, while also decreasing your risk of developing diabetes or high blood pressure, both of which can contribute to ED, too. How much exercise do you need? Ideally, you want to aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, plus two separate sessions of weights of strengthening exercises, or 75 minutes of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “vigorous-intensity aerobic activity” which might include jogging or running, plus your two strength-building workouts. But if you’re feeling good and your doctor gives you the thumbs up, try to increase the amount of exercise you’re logging each week. Reduce stress. Stress can definitely contribute to erectile dysfunction, so it would be worth addressing it for that reason alone. But stress is hard on the rest of your body, too. Learn to identify your own triggers so you can develop coping strategies for dealing with them—or even find ways to reduce the very causes of that stress. Feeling good? Great! Don’t forget that maintenance is key to keeping any machine running smoothly—including your own body. Schedule regular check-ups with your primary care doctor to make sure that you’re staying on top of your health.