Returning to an active lifestyle after a diagnosis of or treatment for coronary artery disease can be frustrating. You assess every experience carefully using a new set of standards meant to protect your heart.
Are those stairs too steep? Does this food have too much fat?
It can be a stressful and exhausting mental loop, and ultimately one that might even make the symptoms you're trying to relieve worse. It doesn't just happen at restaurants or shopping malls, either. This phenomenon commonly occurs in the bedroom.
Can I safely have sex again?
Sexual satisfaction and activity often decrease after you have experienced symptoms or been given a diagnosis of coronary artery disease. But this inhibition may have more to do with anxiety in your mind than plaque in your arteries.
According to the American Heart Association, patients with stable symptoms who are functioning well generally have a low risk of heart-related problems during sexual activity1. Despite pop culture portraying it as a chest-heaving, toe-curling endeavor, the increases in heart rate and blood pressure that occur during sex are similar to what you experience while mowing the lawn or participating in ballroom dancing2,3.
In fact, sexual intercourse may offer heart-friendly benefits. A recent study published in The American Journal of Cardiology tracked the sexual activity of 1,165 men over 16 years.1 Researchers found that men who had sex once a month or less experienced a greater risk of cardiovascular disease than men who were active twice a week.4
Another benefit of an active sex life is greater release of oxytocin. Known as the "cuddle hormone," oxytocin is secreted by the pituitary gland when you experience skin-to-skin contact and during orgasm. Oxytocin has a number of positive emotional effects and several heart-related benefits as well, such as lowering blood pressure and widening the arteries.5
Imagine that feeling of calmness and satisfaction after sex. That's the oxytocin talking.
How to Improve Your Sex Life When You Have Heart Problems
The American Heart Association recommends that heart patients who are stable undergo a comprehensive history and physical exam before engaging in sexual activity-so talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have.
If you're still worried about getting your motor running, ease your mind through these three actions:
Ask your doctor for a stress test. This entails a short bout of cardiovascular exercise while your heart rate is monitored. Research indicates that this test is a predictor of cardiovascular irregularities.6
Regular exercise is a twofold solution. It can reduce stress7 and relieve feelings of anxiety that might be dampening your mood, and it may increase your tolerance to the physical demands of sex.8
Sitting down with your partner and a trained counselor is thought to be an effective but underused way to improve communication and reestablish intimacy.9 By being proactive and communicating with your doctor, returning to sexual activity after diagnosis of or treatment for coronary artery disease won't be a source of stress. It will be another step in returning to a full, enjoyable life.