“You write about heart health don’t you? How does our sex life impact our heart?”
This question was recently posed to me and I must admit that it “stumped” this heart health queen. I was not only intrigued by the question but somewhat embarrassed to have to most reluctantly admit that while I personally thought that sex was the greatest thing since sliced bread (and therefore must be good for you), I really didn’t have a clue regarding how science viewed our sex life and its link, if any, to our heart health. With all of the current emphasis in the news about the little “pink pill” for women, the question seemed more than timely. Does your sex life play a role in your heart health? Can a great sex life reduce your risk of heart disease? What if your sex life is less than perfect? Does the state of your sex life even matter when it comes to having a healthy heart?
According to information obtained as a part of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), sex does matter. Funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the WHI is a long-term (15 year) research study specifically designed to study and improve the quality of life in post-menopausal women as well as study the major causes of death. WHI studies have a special emphasis on cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease research. Almost 162,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79 years participated in WHI studies.
One of the little unexpected jewels of information that bubbled to the surface as a part of the WHI research programs is that your sex life, or rather, dissatisfaction with your sex life, can have a negative impact on your heart health. When you’re unhappy behind closed bedroom doors, you’re at a greater risk for developing peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD brings with it a seven-fold increase in risk of stroke or developing coronary artery disease (CAD or heart disease).
So, just how does sex impact your heart (particularly a woman’s heart)? The answer is almost too simple. Sex (and even simple touching or caressing – or “cuddling” as my significant other likes to call it) has been shown to lower blood pressure, slow your heart rate, reduce cortisol levels (cortisol is a stress hormone), and generally reduce overall stress levels. Stress, high blood pressure, increased heart rates, and negative emotions (anger or depression, for example) are all markers that set you up for a good case of heart disease. A good sex life – a healthy, happy sex life – improves your mood (Duh! Did we need a government study to tell us that?). After all, it’s really hard to remain angry or depressed when things are “right” when the lights go down. A good sex life also has the great benefit of reducing stress, which also improves heart health and lowers your risk for developing CAD.
Researchers aren’t saying that a bad sex life will definitely lead you down the heart attack path but it does contribute to PAD which increases your risk of developing heart disease. It does appear that a good sex life has some real long term benefits that just may improve our quality of life on many levels. But then, we girls knew that all along, didn’t we?
Norine Dworkin-McDaniel, 10 (Really Healthy) Reasons to Have Sex Tonight!, Lifescript, 12 July 2010, http://www.lifescript.com/Life/Sex/Nookie/10_Really_Healthy_Reasons_to_Have_Sex_Tonight.aspx
WHI Background and Overview, Women’s Health Initiative, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/whi/
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