Sex is good for you—even if you’ve recently had a heart attack—and those who discuss sex with their doctors are much more likely to resume it.

At an American Heart Association meeting this past spring, a study from the University of Chicago was presented on this topic. The findings: among 1,760 heart attack survivors (576 of them women), both men (at 30 percent) and women (at 40 percent) were more likely to avoid sex if they hadn’t discussed the topic with their doctors. And the majority of them hadn’t: among the respondents, only 38.8 percent of the men and 17.5 percent of the women said they’d talked with their doctors about resuming sexual relations.

Many patients worry that sexual activity might trigger the next heart attack. Often, patients’ partners also fear it might do damage, so both of them can become reluctant and avoidant. But there’s good news here. The truth is that sexual intercourse has many health benefits, and curbing it post-heart attack can actually be harmful.

Sexual activity releases endorphins, reduces stress, and enhances mood. It decreases depression, emotional liability, and anxiety. Intimacy is important in healthy relationships, and those who enjoy intimate relationships generally live longer. Of course, sex is also a good form of exercise, as well as a confidence builder in a person working to recover, physically and emotionally, from a heart attack.

One study from the New England Research Institute in Massachusetts, published this past January, found that men who have sex at least twice a week have a 45 percent decreased risk of a heart attack compared to men who have sex once a month. Although that study did not include women, most cardiologists believe that women reap similar heart-health benefits. Another study, from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, found that sex once or twice a week in winter can boost the immune system and reduce the risk of catching a cold or the flu. And other studies have found that regular ejaculations can decrease a man’s risk of prostate cancer.

Most experts agree that if you can do the equivalent of walking up two flights of stairs, you’re fit enough to resume sex with a regular partner. One caveat, though: as part of their evaluation and treatment, many heart attack patients undergo an angiogram or “cardiac catheterization,” in which a long, thin tube is inserted into an artery in the groin. This artery should be well healed before resuming intense physical activity, sex included. It is usually fully healed within a week.

The University of Chicago study that I mentioned earlier, which was presented by Dr. Stacey Tessler Lindau, is a great reminder for doctors and patients alike to discuss the health benefits of sex—not only about when it’s safe to resume after a life-altering event such as a heart attack, but as part of a personal health plan in general. Sex is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and just like diet, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction, it should be discussed with your doctor regularly.

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