Does Having Sex Increase Your Risk Of A Heart Attack? What The Experts Say

Though it is a rare occurrence, a heart attack after sex can happen. A 2011 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA) showed an association between an additional hour of sexual activity per week and an increased relative risk of a heart attack. It can be argued, though, that any intense physical activity has the potential to do this.

Additionally, according to Harvard Health Publishing, there is a difference between your relative and absolute risk for a heart attack associated with physical activity. While the relative risk is obtained by comparing two groups with different behaviors, the absolute risk is the actual "baseline" risk (via Atlas Biomed). Moreover, there are numerous other factors that can come into play when assessing your risk for a heart attack. Age is one example; per the National Institute on Aging, people aged 65 and above have a higher heart attack risk than younger individuals. A review of over 6,800 cases of middle-aged men who died of a heart attack revealed that only 0.2% died within an hour after having sex (via JAMA Cardiology). 

Your regular level of exercise also matters. The JAMA study showed that individuals who consistently engaged in physical exercise were less likely to experience a sex-related heart attack than less active folks. Plus, sexual activity doesn't even expend that much energy. It clocks in at 2 to 3 metabolic equivalents (METS) and can go up to 4 during orgasm, comparable to doing light housework or climbing stairs.

Who has the highest risk of sex-related heart attack?

The absolute risk of having a heart attack after sex is low for most. Moreover, those who have the most significant risk are individuals with heart disease

The aforementioned JAMA Cardiology study showed that some of the patients who died after sex had an underlying heart condition like arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy, ischemic heart disease, idiopathic left ventricular hypertrophy, and mitral valve prolapse. Per Harvard Health Publishing, the risk of a sex-related heart attack is 10 times greater for men with a heart condition. However, this translates to a 20-in-1,000,000 chance of a sex-related heart attack, which is still quite low. 

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, people whose hearts are generally healthy don't need to worry too much. As Dr. Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, explains, "Your risk is slightly elevated whenever you're physically active...But for people with a stable heart, the long-term benefits of regular physical activity — including sex — far outweigh the risks."

How sex can be beneficial to your cardiac health

Sex can increase your relative risk of a cardiac event, but it can also be beneficial to your health. Research in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior shows that sexuality is important to a person's relationship and wellbeing, and that sexually active women have a lower risk of experiencing a heart attack and other cardiac events. In addition, a Welsh study of over 900 men found that frequent sex could provide some level of protection against fatal coronary events. 

Sex is also an aerobic activity. Even individuals with heart disease should ensure they are getting aerobic activity in their lives. Per the Heart Foundation, getting 30 minutes of exercise a day is essential, even after a heart attack. And while you probably wouldn't want to replace sex with walking or hitting the gym, the endorphin release is excellent for countering depression and anxiety, per Penn Medicine.

As Dr. Aapo L. Aro of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles explained via the New York Times, "Although sexual activity, as well as other physical exertion, may transiently slightly increase one's risk of cardiac arrest, the overall long-term health benefits of exercise far outweigh the possible risks."