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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.

The best way to stay healthy and protect cardiovascular health is to avoid tobacco, exercise regularly, eat a good diet, stay lean, and limit alcohol. Do not initiate sexual activity if you are not feeling well, and anyone experiencing possible cardiac symptoms during sex should interrupt the sexual activity at once. With these simple guidelines and precautions, sex is safe for the heart.

Read the full-length article: “Is sex exercise? And is it hard on the heart?”

Also in this issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysms: Triple A, double trouble
  • Is sex exercise? And is it hard on the heart?
  • Medical memo: Cholesterol and prostate cancer
  • On call: Excessive perspiration

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.