Sexual Activity and Heart Diseases: Staying Safe

We all know that getting regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Regular exercise increases heart rate and breathing, increasing heart and lung health. Sex also increases your heart rate and breathing, so shouldn't it be considered a form of exercise? In short, yes. It does provide some heart benefits. However, maybe not as many as we would think or want.

Key takeaways:
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    Sexual activity increases your chances of a heart attack or other heart events — similar to other mild to moderate-intensity exercises.
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    Sex may lower your blood pressure, strengthen your heart, and improve your sleep quality. It can even decrease anxiety and depression, which can reduce your risk of heart disease.
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    Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about having sex, especially if you have heart symptoms while engaging in sexual activities.
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    Most people with a healthy heart or on heart medications receive more benefit than harm from regular physical activity, including sexual activity.

How does sex compare to other forms of exercise?

According to Harvard Medical School, sex ranks as a mild to moderate intensity exercise. The heart benefits you get from sexual activity are equal to those from walking, raking leaves, or playing ping-pong.

Research has shown that a person's heart rate rarely reaches 130 beats per minute during sex, and their systolic blood pressure (the top number) rarely exceeds 170.

Is it safe to have sex if I have heart disease?

According to a literature review by the National Library of Medicine (NIH), heart rate and blood pressure increase slowly in response to both physical and emotional intensity as sexual activities progress.

As with all exercise, adrenaline raises your heart rate and blood pressure, increasing your chances of a heart attack or heart arrhythmias. Therefore, this risk is greater if you already have heart disease.

So, in theory, sex can cause heart attacks. However, this is not common. For example, studies show sexual activity is associated with less than one of every 100 heart attacks. Sex doubles the chance for a healthy, middle-aged person to suffer a heart attack. However, that still leaves the risk at only two in one million. If you have heart disease, the risk is ten times higher. A person with heart disease only has a 20 in one million chance of having a heart attack during sex.

It should be safe to have sex if you can walk up a few flights of stairs without any problems.

Are Viagra or other ED medications safe if I have heart disease?

Viagra is a medication used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED). For many men, using Viagra or other similar ED medications is not a problem. However, they are NOT safe to use if you take any form of nitrate medication (nitroglycerin), including pills, pastes, or sprays.

Certain ED medications and nitrates cause your blood pressure to drop. However, they will not drop your blood pressure too low if used independently and appropriately. But used together, they may cause dangerously low blood pressure.

However, don't worry. There are other remedies available for treating ED that is safe for men with heart disease, even if they take nitrates.

How can I avoid having a heart attack during sex?

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it is safe for you to have sex if you can climb stairs, jog, or walk a mile without difficulty.

By decreasing your risk for heart disease, you can avoid heart attacks, heart arrhythmias, and other heart-related events during sex:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Manage your diabetes.
  • Monitor your cholesterol.
  • Control your high blood pressure.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.

Doing these things will lower your risk of a heart attack due to atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries. On a side note, avoiding atherosclerosis will decrease your risk of getting ED.

Atherosclerosis, the same thing that causes heart disease, causes erectile dysfunction. Just as plaque builds up along the walls of blood vessels along the outside of your heart, it can do the same in a penis. This plaque can cause damage to a penis just as it can to your heart. So, by reducing your risk of heart disease, you are also decreasing your risk of ED.

When should I abstain from having sex?

If you are not feeling well, you should not engage in sexual activity.

Stop any sexual activity immediately if you start to experience:

  • dizziness
  • chest pain
  • heart palpitations
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea or indigestion
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