People Who Have Sex Soon After Heart Attacks Live Longer

After a heart attack, getting back in the sack might seem like the worst thing to do, but in fact having at least as much sexual activity after an attack as before is linked to longer life expectancy. Elnur/Shutterstock

Now here's some exciting news. Far from it being important to abstain from sex for a long time after a heart attack, as has been assumed, people who quickly return to making the beast with two backs are likely to live longer. Skeptics might question the direction of causality, proposing that those who have made a good recovery are likely to feel frisky, but do we really want to listen to them? Why not just conclude sex is good for your health, and maybe ask your doctor for a prescription?

Excitement and strenuous exercise can trigger heart attacks and are probably more strongly associated with these events in the public mind than is really accurate. Consequently, combining both has usually been thought of as a definite no for people recovering from myocardial infractions.

However, science is all about challenging assumptions, and while that frequently involves delivering news most people don't want to hear, there are exceptions. Professor Yariv Gerber of Tel Aviv University conducted a study on 495 people who were hospitalized for a first heart attack in 1992-93. All were under 65 and 90 percent were male.

The participants were asked about their frequency of sexual activity in the year before the attack and 3-6 months after the event. Almost half either reduced their sexual activity after the event or stopped entirely, while 53 percent maintained a similar sex life or even upped their rate.

More than two decades later, 43 percent of participants had died, Gerber reports in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology. Those who had at least as much sex after the heart attack as before were 35 percent less likely to be in that unfortunate category after controlling for obvious risk factors. Intriguingly, most of the reduced risk of death came not from a lower chance of another heart attack, but from evading other threats, notably cancer.

"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," Gerber pointed out in a statement. "This may lead to a healthier lifestyle generally."

Gerber speculates those who perceive their health as poor might be less likely to get cancer screening tests and therefore more likely to die of anything they have. Alternatively, abundant sex may have represented a reason to stay alive and therefore get screened.

With the average age of participants being 53 and such a heavy gender skew, the results may not be universally applicable. However, they do fit with a 2015 study that debunked the idea sex frequently triggers heart attacks, concluding the exercise benefits probably provide a protective effect.

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