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Extramarital Sex is Bad for Your Health

Older men at higher risk of fatal heart attacks

FRIDAY, Dec. 6, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Sex is like a walk in the park -- except when the walk takes place in the wrong bedroom.

A British report has found the energy expended during sex for the average middle-aged man is the equivalent of walking a mile in 20 minutes, and is thus generally safe, even for those men with heart disease.

However, in the very rare cases of sudden death during sex, 75 percent of those deaths occurred during extramarital relations, reports Dr. Graham Jackson, a cardiologist at Guys' and St. Thomas' Hospital in London.

"The overall incidence of sudden death during sex is very low, less than 1 percent," says Jackson. However, he adds, the large majority of men studied who died in this way were in their 50s or 60s and had been with younger women who weren't their wives.

"They were with an unfamiliar partner, in an unfamiliar setting, had too much to eat and drink and too much to prove," Jackson says.

Jackson reviewed three studies that analyzed the results of autopsies of nearly 35,000 men and women who died of heart disease. Only 0.6 percent of the deaths occurred during sex. He announced the results of his review in an address this week to sexual health professionals in Hamburg, Germany.

Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiac rehabilitation expert at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, agrees the heart risks posed by sex are small. "Basically, sex is comparable to a brisk walk, and an orgasm is like climbing a flight of stairs," she says. "It is considered moderate activity."

However, if someone is a little less comfortable during sex because he is not with his regular partner, it could make the heart work harder and increase cardiac risk, she says.

Jackson says the percentage of deaths during extramarital relations was remarkably consistent in the three studies he reviewed, from Japan; Frankfurt, Germany; and Berlin.

In each study, 75 percent to 77 percent of those men who died during sex were with younger partners to whom they were not married.

People in their 20s have sex more often and in a more vigorous fashion than do people in their 50s and 60s, so when an older man is with a younger woman "you can see the mismatch, sort of wishful thinking," Jackson says.

For most people, sex is hardly a dangerous activity.

"The risk of dying during sex is very low, and the risk of a heart attack during sex is very low. If you can keep physically fit and have a healthy lifestyle, the risk is even lower," Jackson says.

The health risks of sex for people with heart disease aren't that significant, Goldberg says. However, some continue to worry.

"It is a quality of life issue," adds Goldberg. "Worry about having a recurrent heart attack or dying suddenly is on their minds and is often not verbalized at a doctor's visit."

"If the doctor doesn't bring it up, you should," she says.

What To Do

Check for the warning signs of a heart attack by visiting The American Heart Association. The AHA also offers some advice about resuming sex after a heart attack.

SOURCES: Graham Jackson, M.D., cardiologist, Guys' and St. Thomas' Hospital, London; Nieca Goldberg, M.D. chief, Cardiac Rehabilitation and Prevention Center, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City
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