We’ve all wondered if having sex benefits our heart. But there’s no straight yes or no answer to this question. We’re limited to what research can tell us. Observational studies can establish a correlation, but they can’t prove a cause and effect relationship. To prove that, scientists would need randomized clinical trials with control groups that abstain from sex for a long time—something that’s unlikely to happen. But anecdotal information gives us a strong sense that sex fits in with a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Here are answers to common questions about the effects of sex on heart health:
- Does sex count as exercise? Well, it’s movement, but it’s not all that much exercise. You’re not going to burn many calories during an average sexual encounter—about five to 15 minutes. You’ll get about the same amount of activity as you would walking a 20-minute mile. Your heart rate reaches a peak of between 110 and 120, which is barely cardiovascular exercise. Don’t count on getting 150 minutes of moderate activity each week from sex.
- Is sex good for your heart? Maybe. One study found men who had sex twice a week or more were less likely to develop heart disease than those who had sex less frequently. Research like this typically focuses on men because for a long time it was believed that more men have heart disease. But now we know heart disease affects people of all genders, so it’s likely women may have similar benefits to an active sex life. More research needs to be done, though. What we do know is that studies like this do not prove sex prevents heart disease; they merely suggest sex is part of an overall heart-healthy lifestyle. Experts think of sex as a marker for health. If you’re having more sex, there’s a good chance you are fitter and more active than someone having less. If you’re out of shape and can’t enjoy sex, you may need to make lifestyle changes.
- Is sex risky for people with heart disease? Likely not. If you’re fit enough for sex, physicians usually encourage it. Your blood pressure will rise during sex, typically to a peak of around 160/90—that’s what happens during a brisk run for a few minutes. It goes back down afterward. Yes, there are stories of men who suffered heart attacks and died during sex, but those stories are rare.
- Can sex benefit your overall health? Even if your intimate encounter isn’t a high-intensity romp, regular sex can be a rewarding part of an overall healthy lifestyle. It can make you happier, more relaxed and less stressed, which is definitely a benefit.