At last, the answer to a question that millions of middle-agers and their elders may have been too terrified to ask:
What’s the danger of getting a heart attack from having sex? Hardly any.
Harvard researchers have calculated that sex doubles the chance, but only from about 1-in-a-million to 2-in-a-million for most healthy people in the two hours after intercourse.
For heart attack survivors, the risk is indeed temporarily higher: 20 in a million for the two hours after sex. But even those odds are better than, say, the chance that a woman will die in childbirth - about 80 in a million.
“This is a question that hadn’t been tackled before,” said Dr. Murray Mittleman, the researcher at Harvard’s Deaconesss Hospital in Boston who did the study published in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association. He said many people would be relieved.
“There’s been a general belief that sexual activity can trigger a heart attack,” Mittleman said. “But the risk is actually very low.”
That’s not the only good news. The study also found that regular exercise - when done three or more times a week - protected people who have had a heart attack from most of the extra risk from sex.
“This should be a great advertisement for regular exercise,” Mittleman said.
Dr. Robert DeBusk, a Stanford University cardiologist who wrote an editorial on the subject, calculated that heart-attack patients who don’t exercise were almost three times as likely to have a heart attack after sex than those who exercised three times a week or more.
But even those who remained sedentary didn’t face a big risk - about 30 in a million per hour for the two hours after sex, according to DeBusk. “The risk is still extraordinarily low,” he said.
DeBusk said the study could help ease a widespread anxiety about the issue of sex after a heart attack. Even doctors haven’t been able to advise their patients with confidence.
“Physicians are reluctant to talk about sex even when heart disease is not an issue,” said DeBusk. “They oftentimes are so ambivalent or in-direct about it, the patients are left with the impression, ‘Gee, I guess it’s worse than I thought.”’