Having sex within a few months after having a heart attack may lower a person’s risk of death, finds study
Resuming sexual activity soon after a heart attack may be a part of one's self-perception as a healthy, functioning, young and energetic person and this may lead to a healthier lifestyle generally, explain researchers
Some people are afraid to resume sexual activity after a heart attack. Researchers now assure that having sex within a few months after a heart attack could improve a person’s chances of survival in the long-term. They found that maintaining or increasing the frequency of sexual activity within the first six months after a heart attack was linked with a 35% lower risk of death compared with abstaining or reducing the frequency of sexual activity.
According to study author, Professor Yariv Gerber from Tel Aviv University, Israel, becoming sexually active again shortly after a heart attack may be a marker for “better clinical and psychosocial rehabilitation,” that is, better recovery. “Sexuality and sexual activity are markers of wellbeing. 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,” explains Professor Gerber. He adds, “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.”
Previous research suggests that sexual activity is a form of physical exercise that increases heart rate and blood pressure. Sudden vigorous physical exertion can sometimes lead to a heart attack. But despite this triggering effect, regular physical activity reduces the long-term risk of adverse heart-related outcomes, say experts. Similarly, while episodic sexual activity can sometimes trigger cardiac events, this risk is lower in individuals who exercise regularly. It is due to this and other reasons that some patients hesitate to resume sexual activity for long periods after a heart attack, argue authors.
For the current analysis, the team analyzed whether resumption of sexual activity shortly after hospitalization for a first heart attack was associated with survival over more than two decades. They looked at data from the Israel Study of First Acute Myocardial Infarction. The study included 495 sexually active patients aged 65 years or under who were hospitalized for a first heart attack in 1992 to 1993. The average age was 53 years and 90% were men.
Information about the frequency of sexual activity was collected by interviews at two different points. “This was during the initial hospitalization (when sexual activity was reported for the year preceding the heart attack) and 3-6 months afterward (when it was reported for that time point). Based on the frequency reported at the two interviews, participants were classified into two groups: those who abstained from sexual activity or decreased its frequency following the heart attack (47%) versus those who maintained or increased its frequency after the heart attack (53%),” reveals the study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology.
The results show that 211 or 43% of the patients died during a median follow-up of 22 years. While comparing the risk of death between the two groups, the investigators accounted for baseline differences in other characteristics that could also predict mortality, such as socioeconomic status, depression, physical activity, obesity, self-rated health, and the severity of the heart attack. They found that returning to usual levels of sexual activity within a few months after a heart attack is positively associated with long-term survival. “The survival benefit linked with maintaining/increasing the frequency of sexual activity was mostly attributable to a reduction in non-cardiovascular mortality such as cancer,” reveals analysis.
The authors say that patients who perceive their health as poor might be less likely to start having sex again. “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 the resumption of sexual activity and cancer mortality that was seen in our study,” writes Professor Gerber. The investigators note that this is an observational study and causation cannot be assumed. Nonetheless, the findings should serve to reduce patients' concerns about returning to their usual level of sexual activity soon after a heart attack, they conclude.
According to experts, sexual counseling is important for both cardiac patients and their partners. Psychological concerns, including anxiety, fear, and depression, are prevalent among cardiac patients and, to some extent, their partners, they explain. “Returning to sexual activity is a common concern, and patients frequently request information on how to resume sexual activity. Partners have considerable concerns, often more so than patients. Therefore, the inclusion of partners in sexual counseling is important,” suggest guidelines.