Many men and women develop a little ‘tummy’ after the age of 30. And, if they’re not careful, this accumulation of fat at waistband level continues almost inexorably as they move into their 40s, 50s and 60s.
Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer, announced last year that 80 per cent of men and 92 per cent of women aged 50-plus have ‘dangerously large waists’, putting them at risk of diabetes and heart disease. Alas, there is no doubt that a big waist is bad for your ticker.
People tend to laugh about this gradually acquired waistline embonpoint — a word from Middle French which originally meant ‘in good condition.’ But middle-aged spread definitely isn’t an indication of being in good condition.
It can also affect your sex life. If you are a man and you are carrying a few extra pounds around your navel, you may be putting your sexual potency at risk.
The link between erection problems and excess weight was pointed out by the legendary US researchers Masters and Johnson, way back in 1971, in their book Human Sexual Inadequacy. Rather surprisingly, no one seemed to pay any attention at the time.
During the latter part of the 20th century, men in Britain and America continued getting podgier. And, as males grew plumper, so the incidence of erectile dysfunction increased.
Eventually, in the 1990s, Viagra came along. This, and the closely related drugs Cialis and Levitra, seemed at first to be the answer to the near epidemic of erectile dysfunction. However, it is now clear that these medications don’t provide the solution to every case of failing male sexuality.
Furthermore, medics now realise that it may be better to correct the actual cause of sexual dysfunction, rather than to try and put matters right with powerful pills.
But what is the main cause of erectile problems? It occurs because our arteries tend to ‘fur up’ with advancing age. That furring-up process reduces the blood flow to the man’s penis. And if the blood flow isn’t good, he won’t easily achieve an erection.
Viagra and the other similar drugs work by opening up these tubes that carry blood to the penis, thus giving the chap a much better chance of getting an erection. Sadly, this effect is only temporary, lasting just a few hours (although longer with Cialis).
But what factors cause the furring up and the poor blood flow? They include:
— Being overweight
— Physical inactivity
— Having a high cholesterol
Our own clinical experience has been that carrying excess weight is a particularly important cause of erectile difficulties. Again and again, we have seen male patients who were carrying a stone or so too much and who found that this affected their erections. Some of these men successfully slimmed down, with good effects on their virility.
In 2004, researchers at the University of Naples published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which they reported that they had studied 110 overweight men, aged 35 to 55, who had il disfunzione erettile. The scientists spent two years getting these Neapolitan males to eat less and exercise more, so as to lose around 10 per cent of their body weight. The result was that about a third of them found that their sexual function improved. Not all of them, you’ll notice, but well over 30 per cent.
Subsequently, another study from the University of Florence found that, out of 2,400 Italian signori who were suffering from erectile dysfunction, 58 per cent were obese or overweight. The researchers discovered that the more overweight the men were, the lower their level of the male hormone testosterone. And low testosterone makes it extremely difficult to get a good erection.
More recently, the University of Adelaide has been studying the general health of hundreds of Australian males. Many of these men had erectile dysfunction. But getting them to eat sensibly and to lose weight seems to have cured the erectile dysfunction in about 29 per cent of cases. Again, it’s not 100 per cent. However, it’s not a bad result.
So let’s not get too carried away by all this. Getting rid of the spare tyre around your waist is not guaranteed to give you extra sexual potency. But it may well help. And, from a general health aspect, it will reduce your chances of getting type-2 diabetes, raised cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. Also, it will certainly improve your physical appearance in the bedroom.
From your partner’s point of view, this is not unimportant. As one female patient said to us: ‘If your spouse reminds you of a large, floppy sea lion when he turns over in bed, it tends to kill passion stone dead.’
To be honest, many women are exceptionally kind to obese chaps, and pretend not to notice how out of shape they are. But that doesn’t mean that they are not appalled. And sometimes, of course, they do gossip about their partners. You might remember a woman once said of a certain senior politician that making love with him was ‘like having a wardrobe fall on top of you with the key sticking out.’ Mortifying!
So far we’ve just been talking about males. But can slimming down improve women’s love life too? The jury is still out on that one, but preliminary research by Dr Katherine Esposito in Italy has suggested that weight loss and the adoption of a healthy Mediterranean diet might well be of help in ameliorating sexual difficulties in some women.
So, if you’re attempting to rid yourself of a few extra pounds, or stones, keep trying. You might not only save your sexual relationship but your life, too. You have only to visit a diabetic outpatient clinic, or walk through a cardiac or stroke hospital ward, to see that the consequences of being overweight can be dire — and not just in the bedroom department.