As many of you know, my long-time friend and world-renowned strength coach, Charles Poliquin, died a few weeks from a suspected heart attack. Charles's death has had me thinking a lot about heart health lately and it's what prompted me to write this simple tip, which is kind of a public service announcement. My intent is to give you a simple way to instantly size up the shape of your heart and cardiovascular system so that you can take measures to improve the situation, if need be.
The simple test requires you to answer one question: How easy is it for you to develop and maintain an erection?
Why Boners Are a Canary in a Coal Mine
Every artery in the body contains a single-celled lining called the endothelium. It's this single-cell lining that releases nitric oxide gas, which, in the case of the penis, causes the smooth muscle tissue of the corpora cavernosa to relax.
When this pressure gets to a certain point, it literally squeezes shut the veins caught in between the aforementioned corpora cavernosa and the fibrous envelope surrounding it, thus preventing blood from flowing out and consequently erecting a Thor's-hammer quality hard-on.
A healthy endothelium is consequently essential to a good, strong, serviceable erection, just as it is to blood flow throughout the body. While an unhealthy endothelium leads to erectile dysfunction (ED), it's also a strong predictor of heart disease and premature death. Simply put, bad erections often equals bad heart.
How Strong is the Correlation?
Cardiologist Joel Kahn, a proponent of the erection/heart health theory, points out the following alarming bit of epidemiological data:
"...if you live in Olmstead County, Minnesota... and are a man between the ages of 40 and 49 without known heart disease but with ED, you have up to a 50-fold higher incidence of eventually having new heart events compared to men the same age without ED. Rarely in medicine is there ever a risk factor this powerful. To compare, smoking, for example, may raise the risk of similar events 3-fold."
In another example, if a man who has diabetes is unable to achieve a strong erection, it can predict diseased arteries and future heart problems years before a heart attack or death from heart-related problems. The correlation is much stronger than that of smoking, elevated blood pressure, or family history of heart disease.
Which Fruit or Vegetable Are You?
So, how do we define a strong erection? Singapore's Society for Men's Health uses a four-point scale to allow men to rate their own hardness: Cucumber, unpeeled banana, peeled banana, and tofu.
If you're a cucumber, chances are you have the heart of Secretariat (who, after necropsy, was reported to have a heart twice the size of a normal horse). Unpeeled bananas are probably okay, too, but once you get mushier than that, you might want to take stock of your cardiovascular health.
As far as duration, real studies are sparse, if they even exist, but generally speaking, a man in his teens or 20's should be able to hit fungos off that thing for close to an hour, while an average man in his late 30's might start flailing about after 30 to 40 minutes.
Things often get dicey after that, with each decade of life chopping away at the length of a man's erection until reaching a penile perigee in his late 60's or 70's, when a 10-minute erection is something to be applauded.
But there are other factors at play here other than cardiovascular health. Older men also have to contend with declining testosterone levels and a loss of elasticity in the connective tissues of the penis.
Of course, external factors can affect the duration of an erection; things like intent (a quickie as opposed to a marathon love-making session), premature ejaculation, or lack of a sufficiently stimulating partner. As such, duration isn't as valuable a barometer of heart health as erection strength.
What This Means to You
I get that there are other possible causes for ED. Many cases of erectile dysfunction are associated with psychological problems, ranging from something as simple as performance anxiety to severe mental scarring stemming from the time your mother walked in on your childhood self while you were getting familiar with a gym sock.
ED can also signal a profound testosterone deficiency, or stem from over-exposure to environmental estrogens. Barring all that, though, the ability to easily achieve and maintain an erection is a valid barometer of cardiovascular health.
If you struggle to achieve a serviceable erection and you don't think the preceding psychological/hormonal explanations apply, you need to take stock of lifestyle issues like exercise, sleep, and nutrition. Try to adopt as many of the recommendations from Keep Kicking Ass After 40 as possible.
A little hard work and diligence can restore cardiovascular health and where the heart goes, so does the penis.