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March 2011



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By Psych Central News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on March 22, 2011

When it comes to physical exertion and sex, every once in a while may not be such a good thing. New research suggests a small but significant risk of heart attack or cardiac arrest associated with physical and sexual activity when these are done only occasionally.

The researchers caution, however, that the absolute risk is small amongst the general population. It is even further reduced among people who have high levels of regular physical activity (such as exercise).

Acute cardiac events such as heart attacks are a major cause of illness and death. It is estimated that as many as a million acute myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) and 300,000 cardiac arrests occurring in the United States each year.

“Regular physical activity has been identified as strongly associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and related mortality. Despite the well-established benefits of regular physical activity, anecdotal evidence has suggested that physical activity, as well as other acute exposures, such as sexual activity and psychological stress, can act as triggers of acute cardiac events,” the authors write.

Issa J. Dahabreh, M.D., of Tufts Medical Center, and Jessica K. Paulus, Sc.D., of Tufts University, conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to examine the association between episodic physical activity and sexual activity and acute cardiac events and also the interaction of regular physical activity levels with the triggering effect of these exposures. The researchers identified 14 studies that met criteria for inclusion in the analysis.

The researchers found that overall, the studies suggested an association (3.5 times increased risk) between episodic physical activity and heart attack.

The researchers also found evidence of an increase in the risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) triggered by episodic physical exertion.

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