Older men having sex – and enjoying it – are at increased risk of heart attack

Having sex frequently is good for older women, but it's not the same for men

A US study has found that sex in later life could make men twice as likely to have a heart attack, while it brings health benefits for women.

A US study has found that sex in later life could make men twice as likely to have a heart attack, while it brings health benefits for women.

 

Is sex in later life good for you? Well, that depends...

A US study has found that sex in later life could make men twice as likely to have a heart attack, while it brings health benefits for women.

Men in their late 50s to mid-80s who engaged in sexual activity once a week or more had twice the risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular conditions over the next five years, compared with men who went without, the researchers found.

The men who found sex with their partners “extremely pleasurable” or even merely “satisfying” had a higher risk than others.

For women, it was a different story however. 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.

The study at Michigan State University involved more than 2,200 people who enrolled in the US National Social Life, Health and Ageing project. It is one of the first large scale studies into the impact of sex on the health of older people.

Men may fare badly because they exhaust themselves more than younger men in an effort to reach an orgasm, according to Hui Liu, a sociologist who led the study, which was reported in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour.

She said that would “create more stress on their cardiovascular system in order to achieve climax”.

Medicines designed to boost sexual function also might contribute to the damaging effects on men’s hearts, she added. High testosterone levels could also play a role, by increasing men’s motivation to have sex while predisposing them to hypertension.

“Good sexual quality may protect older women from cardiovascular risk in later life,” Liu said.

Older women who enjoy an active sex life may fare better than older men because of the beneficial effects of the female sex hormone released during orgasm, and the stress-busting effects of a close relationship, according to the research.

The health records studied contained information on heart rate, hypertension, and cases of heart attacks, heart failure and stroke. Measurements were also taken of biomarkers that are used to predict a person’s risk of stroke and heart attack. The first wave of data was collected in 2005 and 2006.

According to Liu, the findings challenge the conventional wisdom that sex is good for health whatever a person’s age. She said GPs should talk with their older male patients about the potential risks that come with an active sex life. Those who have sex once a week or more might even do well to be screened for heart problems later in life, she said.

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