Sexual Wellness Resource Center
For Adults over 50.

Is Sex Good for Your Heart?

By Michael Bates, M.D.

Growing older doesn’t mean the end of your sex life. Many studies have shown that older adults maintain an active, fulfilling sex life well into their 90s. It’s no wonder: There are abundant physical and psychological benefits of sex. Sex has a positive impact on physical and cognitive performance, relationships, and happiness into our senior years.  

In this series of articles on the health benefits of sex for seniors, we’ll discuss some of these issues individually. Let’s start with the heart.

Sex and Heart Health

The assumption for many years has been that physical activities that exercise the heart—including sex—are good for your health. It has been frequently reported that men who have sex at least twice weekly are half as likely to die from heart disease.  

A Michigan State University 2016 study casts a different light on the cardiovascular risk for men.

This study reported that for older women sex does promote cardiovascular health. However, for older men, having sex once a week or more doubles the risk of cardiovascular events when compared to older sexually inactive men.

So how do we explain this contradiction? “Doubles the risk” is an eye-popping statement.  

Study design, data collection, and statistical analysis all play a role.  

The best data I could find came from a 1999 article by Dr. James Muller, Sexual activity as a trigger for cardiovascular events: what is the risk? Dr. Muller is a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and has spent years studying the triggers for heart attack.

The absolute risk for heart attack in a 50 year old man who exercises regularly is 1 chance in a million per hour. Sexual activity triples that risk to 3 in one million per hour, and only for the two-hour period during and after sexual activity.

Yes, sex can trigger a heart attack but it doesn’t happen very often. Does that figure rise for older men? Yes, but it’s still is quite rare. Walking up two flights of stairs requires more energy than having intercourse—if you can do that without chest pain or excessive shortness of breath, you can assume that you can also be sexually active. Talk about any concerns you have on this issue with your doctor and your partner.

For more on heart health and sex, I invite you to read our previous articles: Heart Disease and Sexuality and High Blood Pressure and Sex.

What is the take home message?    

“Doubling the risk” is doubling a very, very small number: ie a few chances in a million. The many benefits of sex outweigh this small risk. Don’t be afraid to discuss any concerns you have about heart health and sex with your doctor and your partner.

Questions? Ask the Expert.

As per our Terms of Use, this article is for general educational and informational purposes only and is not meant to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice. Consult with your own physician or health care practitioner regarding the use of any information received here before using or relying on it. Your physician or health care practitioner should address any and all medical questions, concerns and decisions regarding the possible treatment of any medical condition.

 

References

  • Liu, Hin et al, Is sex good for your health?  A national study on partnered sexuality and cardiovascular risk among older men and women,  J Health Soc Behav, sept. 2016

  • Muller, James, MD, Sexual activity as a trigger for cardiovascular events: what is the risk?  Am J of Cardiology, sept. 1999.

 

About the Author

Michael Bates, M.D.

Dr Bates practiced obstetrics and gynecology for 34 years in Wichita, Kansas, until his retirement in 2011.

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