Does sex help or hurt the heart as we age?, from Harvard Men’s Health Watch

Is sex a form of exercise that can keep us healthy or a threat to those with heart disease? The June issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch reviews research on the connection between sex and health.

According to one study, sex doesn't count as heart-protective exercise. This research monitored middle-aged male and female volunteers while they walked on a treadmill in the lab and during private sexual activity at home, the two are not equal—the treadmill proved more strenuous. During sex, the men raised their heart rates only 72% as high as they did on the treadmill. Sex was even less strenuous for women in terms of heart rate, blood pressure, and perceived exertion. All in all, average sexual activity ranks as mild to moderate in terms of exercise intensity.

But if sex can't protect the heart, can it hurt it? Careful studies show that fewer than one of every 100 heart attacks is related to sexual activity, and for fatal arrhythmias the rate is just one in 200. So for a healthy 50-year-old man, the risk of having a heart attack in any given hour is about one in a million; sex doubles the risk, but it's still just two in a million. For men with heart disease, the risk is 10 times higher — but even for them, the chance of suffering a heart attack during sex is just 20 in a million, which are pretty safe odds.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »