Known for a wooden TV persona during his years as Senate Majority Leader, Bob Dole’s best moment might have followed his failed presidential campaign, when he endorsed Viagra and brought erectile dysfunction — known euphemistically as “E.D.” — to America’s breakfast table.

Now, a new study from Australia suggests men may skip the "little blue pill" in favor of adopting a healthier lifestyle.

The common sexual dysfunction — characterized by an inability to develop or maintain an erection — comes from the hydraulic failure of sponge-like bodies within the penis to retain an increased blood flow rushing to the groin. Essential to vital reproductive functioning, the condition may wreak lasting psychological harm on some men. Indeed, Viagra and its competitors today are widely available at $15 a pop, often covered more readily by health insurance plans than a woman’s birth control prescription. In June 1998, Newsweek declared Viagra the "hottest new drug in history almost everywhere in the world."

Yet those products represent a shortcut to treating erectile dysfunction that ignores other co-occurring diseases, warns researcher Sean Martin, of the University of Adelaide.

"Erectile dysfunction can be a very serious issue because it's a marker of underlying cardiovascular disease, and it often occurs before heart conditions become apparent,” he said. “Therefore, men should consider improving their weight and overall nutrition, exercise more, drink less alcohol and have a better night's sleep, as well as address risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.

"This is not only likely to improve their sexual ability, but will be improve their cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of developing diabetes if they don't already have it."

In a five-year study, Martin and his colleagues followed a group including 810 Australian men 35 to 80 years of age, finding that 31 percent had developed impotence by the end of that period. Co-investigator Gary Wittgert says failures of sexual health may be symptomatic of wider health ailments.

"The inability of some men to perform sexually can also be linked to a range of other health problems, many of which can be debilitating or potentially fatal,” Wittgert said. "Our study saw a large proportion of men suffering from some form of erectile dysfunction, which is a concern. The major risk factors for this are typically physical conditions rather than psychological ones, such as being overweight or obese, a higher level of alcohol intake, having sleeping difficulties or obstructive sleep apnea, and age."

Although the condition affects as many as 40 percent of men on an occasional basis, researchers say lifestyle changes may lower the rate of impotence. Sales of Viagra and its competitors hit $2 billion in 2012.

Martin, Sean A., Atlantis, Evan, Lange, Kylie, Taylor, Anne W., O’Loughlin, Peter, Wittert, Gary A. Predictors of Sexual Dysfunction Incidence and Remission in Men. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2014.