20/08/2014 11:08 BST | Updated 20/10/2014 06:59 BST

Safe to Get Back in the Saddle?

If you're a man who fancies himself as the next Sir Chris Hoy - but you don't want to lose any of your prowess in the bedroom - there's good news. A study of more than 5,000 cyclists in the UK has debunked the popular myth that cycling causes male impotence, suggesting that it may not increase your risk of having erection problems (or erectile dysfunction, ED) after all.

The Cycling for Health study, published recently in the Journal of Men's Health, suggests cycling has no effect on a man's fertility either. In fact, if you cycle for between 3.75 and 5.75 hours a week, you may well enjoy a slightly reduced risk of infertility, the researchers from University College London claim.

The news may come as a relief for the increasing number of blokes taking to two wheels (sources suggest that, as a nation, we cycled 600 million more miles in 2012 compared with 1992, with 80 percent of those cycling miles undertaken by the male of the species).

Earlier studies have, however, demonstrated a link between cycling and ED - a condition that affects around half of all men between the ages of 40 and 70, says the NHS. But the UCL report suggests things are more complicated than they seemed.

After all, cycling - or, rather, any type of regular physical activity - should, in theory, reduce the risk of ED. This may be a result of the positive effect exercise has on some of the health conditions that may cause the physical problems that lead to ED, such as heart disease, diabetes, raised blood pressure and raised cholesterol (for instance, up to 25 percent of all men with diabetes aged 30-34 are affected by ED, claims the Men's Health Forum, not to mention the 75 percent of older men with the condition).

And that's just one more reason to see the doc if you have ED, as it could be an early sign of other health problems (heart disease, narrow arteries, high blood pressure, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Peyronie's disease, to name just some of them).

The fact is, ED isn't the unspeakable problem it used to be, thanks largely to the launch of that famous little blue pill just over 16 years ago. These days, you can choose from several Viagra-type products, many of which are also available from online pharmacies for those who find a visit to their GP's surgery to discuss the narrowing of their penis arteries a touch too embarrassing.

A word of caution, however. If you're considering going the online route, make sure you use an online pharmacy that's registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and staffed by GMC-registered doctors, who will make sure any prescription medication you order is suitable for you.

Why? Because there are, apparently, an awful lot of illegal ED drugs out there, with a study published in the British Medical Journal suggesting at least two thirds of Viagra-type drugs taken by men in the Netherlands may be illicit, which is likely to be the result of one too many rogue online pharmacies.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of lifestyle changes men can make to help improve the symptoms - or reduce their risk - of ED too, including giving up smoking, losing weight where necessary, sticking to a moderate alcohol intake (no more than three to four units of alcohol a day, according to UK recommendations) and avoiding illegal recreational drugs.

And let's not forget that old favourite: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week. Which takes us neatly back to getting on your bike (at least now you can do so without worrying about how it may affect your love life).