How to Maintain a Healthy Heart (and a Healthy Sex Life) as You Age
Heart disease is a serious matter in the United States. It’s the leading cause of death for all genders and most racial and ethnic groups, so prolific that 1 in every 4 U.S. deaths is from heart complications. And since the risk of cardiovascular disease increases after age 65, preventive measures are better made sooner than later. As it happens, these improvements for your heart can have a marked impact on your sexual health, as well.
Unsurprisingly, sex may benefit heart health. So even if you have heart issues, don’t fear, because you’ll actually be better off if you can maintain an active sex life.
Create healthy habits
Much of your heart health centers around diet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends avoiding foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, such as fried foods, baked goods, red meat, full-fat dairy products and butter. In general, eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts can lead to greater heart health.
Regular exercise also can make a difference, as individuals who don’t exercise are almost twice as likely to develop heart disease. Stretching, strength exercises and aerobic activity are all important parts of any exercise plan. Overall, aiming for 30 minutes of exercise five days a week is recommended. And there’s no need to train for a marathon—even 30 minutes of fast-paced walking can get your blood pumping.
Manage risk factors
Other lifestyle choices that may put you at higher risk for heart disease are smoking cigarettes and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. In fact, smoking causes 1 in every 4 cardiovascular disease deaths. If you smoke, quitting may result in significant benefits to your heart health. As far as drinking, the American Heart Association says moderate alcohol consumption—the only level considered safe—is defined as one drink per day for women and two for men.
High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels can also lead to heart disease, so regular testing can be beneficial. Obesity and diabetes increase the chances of developing cardiovascular issues, as well, so it’s important to maintain a healthy weight and carefully manage diabetes.
Cardiovascular benefits of sex
Sex is a form of light exercise and can have its own benefits for heart health. Some studies have compared physical exertion during sex to that of climbing two flights of stairs.
According to a research study by Harvard Medical School, men who were monitored while walking on a treadmill showed a higher heart rate and blood pressure than men monitored while having sex. Based on this, sex doesn’t place a huge strain on the heart.
Furthermore, sex helps keep estrogen and testosterone levels in check, which is an added benefit since low levels of these hormones can lead to cardiovascular disease.
Individuals who have suffered a heart attack may feel anxious about resuming any sort of strenuous activity, including sex. However, a study published in 2020 indicated that heart attack patients who resumed a similar level of sexual activity in the three to six months after their initial cardiac arrest had a 35 percent lower risk of death than those who decreased or abstained from sexual activity.
If you’ve recently recovered from a heart attack, talk with your doctor about whether you are ready to resume sex.
Also note that some men may be using medications such as sildenafil (Viagra) to prepare for sex, and this can have side effects and/or drug interactions with other medications, specifically heart medications. It’s important to discuss such issues with a physician.
Keep it simple
While sex poses a low risk for causing heart complications, it always pays to be healthy. Whether you have your own history of heart disease, it runs in your family or you just like to stay ahead of your health, taking simple steps can maintain or improve your cardiovascular health. Being intentional about your diet, maintaining a regular exercise routine and keeping risk factors in check can all help keep your heart healthy for sex.