Posted on Feb 13, 2023, 5 p.m.
At some time in his life, nearly everyone will get a good workout while having sex. As some get older, they may wonder if sex is a good form of exercise or if it might be too strenuous on their aging cardiovascular systems, namely their hearts. These questions are actually quite important, and they now have scientific answers.
Streets vs. sheets
To investigate the cardiovascular effects of sexual activity, researchers monitored participants while they walked on a treadmill in the lab and while they were engaged in conventional consensual sexual activity in the privacy of their homes. This study involved 32 participants (19 men and 13 women) with an average age of 55 years old, of which around three-quarters of the men were married, and nearly 70% had some form of cardiovascular disease; 53% were taking beta blockers. The men reported exercising about four times a week, and having sexual activity about six times a month on average, regardless of their cardiac histories.
Participants' heart rates and blood pressure were monitored during standard treadmill exercise tests and during "usual" sexual activity with a familiar partner at home. All the sex acts concluded with vaginal intercourse and male orgasm.
According to the researchers, the treadmill proved more strenuous; on an intensity scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest, men evaluated treadmill exercise as 4.6 and sex as 2.7. Additionally, sexual intercourse was even less strenuous for women in terms of heart rate, blood pressure, and perceived intensity of exertion.
Findings suggest that men seem to spend more energy thinking and talking about sex than on the act itself. During sexual intercourse, a man's heart rate rarely gets above 130 beats a minute, and his systolic blood pressure (the higher number, recorded when the heart is pumping blood) nearly always stays under 170. Average sexual activity ranks as mild to moderate in terms of exercise intensity, as for oxygen consumption, it comes in at about 3.5 METS (metabolic equivalents), which is roughly the same as dancing, raking leaves, or playing ping pong. Sex burns about five calories a minute; that's four more than a man uses watching TV, but it's approximately the same as walking the course to play golf. It was hypothesized that if a man can walk up two or three flights of stairs without difficulty, he should be in shape for sex.
Sex as sex
While yard work and raking leaves may increase a man's oxygen consumption, it probably won't get his motor running or float his partner’s boat. Sex, obviously, is different, all of the excitement and stress might stimulate the release of extra adrenaline. Mental excitement and physical exercise are known to increase adrenaline levels, which could trigger heart attacks and arrhythmias, abnormalities of the heart's pumping rhythm. But inquiring minds want to know if a roll in the sheets can do the same. To be honest, in theory, it can. But one needs to keep in mind that in actual practice, it's pretty uncommon, at least during conventional consensual sex with a familiar partner.
Research shows that fewer than 1 out of every 100 heart attacks is related to sexual activity, and for fatal arrhythmias, that rate is only 1 in 200. Statistically, for a healthy 50-year-old man the risk of having a heart attack in any given hour is about one in a million, while it is true that sex doubles the risk, but it's still only two in a million. The risk is 10 times higher for men with heart disease but even for this group of men the chance of suffering a heart attack during sex is just 20 in a million. While there is a risk, the odds are pretty good that the risk is probably worth it.
The little blue pill enters the arena
Human biology has provided unintentional protection for men with heart disease. Many of the things that cause heart disease also cause erectile dysfunction. The common link between them is atherosclerosis, which can damage arteries in the penis as well as in the heart.
Little blue pills such as Sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), tadalafil (Cialis), and avanafil (Stendra) have walked onto the stage to help change that. Nearly 70% of men with erectile dysfunction (ED) will respond to these pills well enough to enable sexual intercourse. This brings us to another question, while sex may be safe for most men with heart disease, but are these pills a safe way to have sex?
With one very, very important qualification, the answer is yes for men with stable coronary artery disease and well-controlled hypertension, but for those taking nitrate medications in any form, unfortunately, the answer is a hard no, and the restriction covers all preparations of nitroglycerin, including long-acting nitrates; nitroglycerin sprays, patches, and pastes; and amyl nitrate. Fortunately, for those that are using nitrates other treatments for erectile function are safe for men with heart disease.
The heart bone is connected to the other one! Although sex is not vital, sex is a healthy and normal part of human life. Sex can help to boost circulation, relieve depression, soothe chronic pain, and remind you of the joys of living. Sexual problems can signal deeper issues such as low libido, erectile dysfunction, genital infection, or a hidden serious health problem. The best way to keep sex safe is to stay in shape by maintaining a healthy lifestyle which includes avoiding tobacco, exercising regularly, eating a healthful balanced diet, keeping stress levels in check, having an optimal BMI, and avoiding too much alcohol whether heart disease is an issue or not. Needless to say, no one should initiate sexual activity if they are not feeling well, and anyone who experiences possible cardiac symptoms during sex should interrupt the sexual activity at once, and seek medical attention.
With these simple guidelines and precautions, sex is generally safe for the heart. It is also important that sexy times should be safe for the rest of the body as well. No one is immune from sexually transmitted diseases, and these unwanted gifts that keep on giving can pose a more significant threat than sexually induced heart problems. When it comes to sex, everyone should use their brains as well as their hearts, be safe about it, and use protection.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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