Having sex again a few months after suffering a heart attack may improve chances of survival, new research suggests.
In the 22-year study, researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel looked at whether returning to usual levels of sexual activity shortly after hospitalisation for a first heart attack was associated with increased long-term survival chances.
The study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, found that maintaining or increasing the frequency of sexual activity within the first six months after a heart attack was associated with 35% lower risk of death compared with abstaining or reducing the frequency of sexual activity.
It was also linked to a reduction in non-cardiovascular mortality such as cancer.
Professor Yariv Gerber of Tel Aviv University, Israel, said: “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.”
Past research suggests sexual activity is a form of physical exercise which increases heart rate and blood pressure.
While sudden vigorous activity can prompt a heart attack, regular physical activity has been known to reduce the long-term risk of adverse heart-related outcomes, according to the researchers.
The study included 495 sexually active patients aged 65 or under who were admitted to hospital for a first heart attack in 1992 to 1993. The average age was 53 and 90% of participants were male.
They were classified into two groups – those who abstained from sexual activity or decreased its frequency following the heart attack (47%) and those who maintained or increased its frequency after the heart attack (53%).
Of the patients involved 211 (43%) died, but scientists found that maintaining or increasing the frequency of sexual activity within the first six months after a heart attack was associated with 35% lower risk of death.
Prof Gerber said: “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 added that patients who thought their health was in a poor state may be less likely to start having sex again.
Researchers also accounted for baseline differences in other characteristics which could also predict mortality – including socioeconomic status, depression and obesity.
However, Prof Gerber highlighted a number of limitations of the study, including that the low proportion of women and relatively young age of participants.