Have Heart Disease? Feel Confident Resuming Sexual Activity!

Medically reviewed in February 2022

Photo Credit: Leo Hidalgo, via Flickr Creative Commons

Many patients who are diagnosed with heart disease, or who are recovering from a heart attack or heart surgery, have very real concerns about returning to sexual activity. However, for some patients this issue gets buried in a long list of questions, or may be difficult to bring up during a conversation with the doctor.

The more fit we are, the lower our risk of heart attack or sudden death during sexual activities.

According to a scientific statement by the American Heart Association, “Decreased sexual activity and function are common in patients with cardiovascular disease and are often interrelated with anxiety and depression.” The decrease in blood flow associated with cardiovascular disease may also have a negative effect on sexual performance—blood vessel issues are the leading cause of erectile dysfunction.

The good news: the cardiovascular risks surrounding sexual activity and heart disease are comparatively low. The American Heart Associations statement outlines specific cardiac conditions and how to evaluate if sexual activity is recommended. It points to studies of young married men that found sexual activity with a person’s usual partner is comparable to “mild to moderate physical activity in the range of three to four metabolic equivalents (METS; i.e., the equivalent of climbing two flights of stairs or walking briskly) for a short duration,” noting that  “heart rate rarely exceeds 130 bpm and systolic blood pressure rarely exceeds 170 mm Hg in adults with otherwise normal blood pressure.” If you are older, less conditioned or have a more complicated history of heart disease, the intensity may be slightly higher. Therefore, it is probably more reasonable to equate sexual activity to mild to moderate physical activity in the range of three to five METS.

With increasing research, the message is becoming clear: for most people with uncomplicated heart disease, the risk of angina, arrhythmia or death is relatively low during sexual activity and comparable to the risk associated with mild to moderate physical exertion.

We know that fitness plays a key role in reducing our day-to-day risk of cardiovascular complications, and the more fit we are, the lower our risk of heart attack or sudden death during sexual activities. Being fit will also make sex more enjoyable because it will allow for more subtle changes in heart rate and blood pressure. As always, for the most accurate information relevant to your situation, please ask your personal physician for his or her advice about when to resume sexual activity.

If you are your partner are diagnosed with heart disease or recovering from a cardiac event, consider yoga. Yoga is a great activity for improving fitness, confidence and peace of mind (and it’s also a great activity to practice as a couple). Read the Ornish Living article, Yoga For Rebuilding Trust in Your Body.

This content was originally published on Ornish Living.

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