After surviving a heart attack, many people are unsure when they should resume normal physical activities, including sex.
The findings of a new study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology suggest that returning to your usual levels of sexual activity after a few months is positively associated with long-term survival.
Sex equals well-being
As with exercise and healthy eating, a healthy sexual drive is associated with wellness. "Sexuality and sexual activity are markers of well-being," said study author Professor Yariv Gerber of Tel Aviv University, Israel.
"Resumption of sexual activity soon after a heart attack may be a part of one's self-perception as a healthy, functioning, young and energetic person. This may lead to a healthier lifestyle, generally."
As sex is a form of physical exercise that increases the heart rate and blood pressure, there is the risk that this sudden physical exertion could lead to a heart attack. This makes many patients hesitant to resume sexual activity for long periods after their heart attack, according to Professor Gerber.
But in the longer term, physical activity can reduce the long-term risk of adverse heart-related outcomes. While episodic sexual activity may trigger cardiac events, those who exercise (and have sex) more regularly than their peers are at a lower risk of experiencing another heart attack, the study states.
What the research entailed
Gerber and team obtained data from 495 sexually active patients aged 65 and younger, who were hospitalised for their first heart attack in the years 1992 to 1993. The average age of those who experienced heart attacks at the time was 53, and 90% of the patients were men.
Participants were then divided into two groups: those who completely abstained from sex, or had very little sex since the first heart attack and those who maintained their regular sex lives, or had more sex after their first heart attack.
During the median follow-up of 22 years, the researchers found that 43% of the participants died. The researchers took several factors that could predict mortality into account, including socioeconomic status, depression, physical activity, obesity, self-rated health, and the severity of the heart attack.
They found that maintaining regular sexual activity, or increasing sexual activity shortly after a heart attack lowered the risk of death by 35%. The researchers believed that maintaining sexual activity also reduced non-cardiac death causes such as cancer.
"Improved physical fitness, stronger spouse relations, and a mental ability to 'bounce back' from the initial shock of the event within a few months are among the possible explanations for the survival benefit observed among the maintained/increased group," he said.
"On the other hand, patients who perceive their health as poor might be less likely to start having sex again," he added. "They may also be less likely to adhere to cancer screening tests and other prevention practices during follow-up. This may explain the strong inverse association between resumption of sexual activity and cancer mortality that was seen in our study.”
Resuming sex after a heart attack
If you had a heart attack and underwent surgery, you may be hesitant to have sex again. Here are some things to consider:
- Talk to your doctor about your fears. Your doctor will be able to perform a cardiac stress test to put your mind at ease.
- Slowly ease back into exercise after talking to your doctor. This will get your heart pumping and your cardiovascular system functioning again, which will further promote heart health.
- Monitor your overall well-being and ability to perform physical activity. If you are still experiencing angina or breathlessness after short walks, you should see your doctor.
- Do not discontinue any heart medications if you are experiencing erectile dysfunction as a side-effect. Always first consult your doctor.
- Take things slowly and be honest with your partner about your fears. It’s normal to have a lower sex drive for a while after having cardiac surgery or a heart attack.
- Avoid sex after a large meal, drinking alcohol or when you are tired.
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