Sex in later life could double risk of heart attacks for men
Sex in later life could make men twice as likely to have a heart attack - but bring health benefits for women, the first study of its kind suggests.
The major research involving more than 2000 people in their 60s, 70s and 80s found that for men, regular sex was closely linked with higher risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes.
Researchers said older men could be at risk of over-exertion, when attempting to meet the demands of a sexual relationship, creating stress on the heart.
Men who had sex at least once a week had twice the risk of such events, compared with those who were sexually inactive, the US research found.
For women no such link was found. Women who reported good sex lives, with high levels of satisfaction, had lower blood pressure – protecting them against heart disease – than those who were sexually inactive.
However, enjoyment of sex offered men no such protection – instead, appearing to add to their strain.
The study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, found that older men who found sex with their partner extremely pleasurable or satisfying had higher risk of cardiovascular events than men who felt less strongly.
Researchers analysed data from 2,204 participants who were aged between 57 and 85 in 2005/6, with follow-up questions five years later.
Hui Liu, MSU associate professor of sociology, at Michegan State University, said:
"Strikingly, we find that having sex once a week or more puts older men at a risk for experiencing cardiovascular events that is almost two times greater than older men who are sexually inactive."
"Moreover, older men who found sex with their partner extremely pleasurable or satisfying had higher risk of cardiovascular events than men who did not feel so."
The strain and demands from a sexual relationship may take their toll on men as they get older, she said, when sexual problems become more common.
"Because older men have more difficulties reaching orgasm for medical or emotional reasons than do their younger counterparts, they may exert themselves to a greater degree of exhaustion and create more stress on their cardiovascular system in order to achieve climax,” Dr Liu said.
Researchers said some of the risks might also have been caused by the use of Viagra and other sexual stimulants among older men.
"Although scientific evidence is still rare, it is likely that such sexual medication or supplements have negative effects on older men's cardiovascular health,” she added.
For women, the findings were far more positive.
But quality of sex was crucial. Benefits were only seem among women who reported high levels of satisfaction and enjoyment from sex.
Researchers said this could reflect the fact that intimacy reflected strong relationships, which might reduce stress. Other factors include the release of the hormone oxytocin, which has been shown to reduce blood pressure.
Prof Liu said: "For women, we have good news, good sexual quality may protect older women from cardiovascular risk in later life."
Previous studies suggest that strong, deep and close relationship is an important source of social and emotional support, which may reduce stress and promote psychological well-being and, in turn, cardiovascular health.
Researchers said doctors should talk to older men about their sex lives, and consider carrying out extra heart checks.
"Physicians should talk to older male patients about potential risks of high levels of sexual activity and perhaps screen those who frequently have sex for cardiovascular issues,” Dr Liu said.
Evidence about the risks and benefits of sex with regard to heart attacks has been extremely contradictory.
In 2010 a study by the New England Research Institute in Massachusetts, involving men aged between 40 and 70, found that those who had sex at least twice a week had almost half the heart attack risks of those who had relations once a month or less.
Last week a study found taking statins could give men an unexpected boost in the bedroom.
Around eight million Britains take the drug every day to reduce their chance of heart disease. The Greek study found those taking them experienced a 43 per cent improvement in their erections, thanks to the benefits of the drugs in restoring blood flow.