Can Strenuous Physical and Sexual Activity Cause a Heart Attack – And Death?

If we have not been physically active for awhile and then we suddenly engage in a spurt of physical activity, is that dangerous and life threatening? Can an intense sexual encounter after months and maybe years of celibacy cause a sudden deadly heart attack? These are the questions that were recently raised in a paper published in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association. And the conclusions can leave us all afraid to be physically active despite all that we have read about the benefits of physical activity. Studies have also shown that if someone we love does not love us back and breaks up with us, this could trigger a heart attack. Should we then cease from seeking love for the remainder of our life, to stay alive?

At first glance, we can get so frightened that we just decide to halt all physical and sexual and love activities. To carefully and cautiously limit all that activity is to stop living while you are still alive. Just because you reach a certain age, any pre-determined age, to assume that strenuous physical activity, particularly sex, can he so dangerous is not generally true. What is true, is that if you have been fairly inactive for a period of time (several months to several years) and then you suddenly engage in a very strenuous activity, you may be risking a health problem.

Haven’t we all heard about someone who went out to shovel snow and had a heart attack? We have also heard of young people having a stroke during a team sports event or while running. What many of us forget is that our bodies function like machines. They require care and attention and proper nutrition. Our bodies also require adequate oxygen and good circulation. And our minds have a powerful impact upon the functioning of our bodies.

If we have been emotionally stressed and our neuromuscular system is taut and inflexible, it behooves us to a find a way to relax and release that tension. Getting a massage or another type of bodywork, attending a concert, or listening to soothing music at home, even indulging in an alcoholic beverage (if we don’t have a substance abuse problem), can help us to relax. But using physical activity as a way to let go of immense tension can become dangerous as we age.

The JAMA article stated that “the absolute risk associated with 1 hour of additional physical or sexual activity per week was estimated as 2 to 3 per 10,000 person-years for MI [myocardial infarction] and 1 per 10,000 person-years for SCD [sudden cardiac death].” These statistics seem to indicate that for most people, even if not regular exercisers in perfect physical condition, adding strenuous activity will not lead to a heart attack. But there is a small percentage of people who may endanger their life by doing so.

Since the incidence of heart attack was even lower for people who exercised regularly, it seems that the answer is quite clear.

  • If you do not exercise regularly, do not suddenly take on a very strenuous activity. Build up to it slowly.
  • Have regular checkups and determine what your risks may be.
  • Evaluate your own family history of heart disease.
  • Are you living an intensely stressful lifestyle?

There is certainly no need to panic and disengage from physical activity of any sort. We have certainly seen enough evidence that physical activity is good for your overall health, your circulation, your breathing, your mind and your emotional state. But this is where your own wisdom has to take over. As you age, your body may remind you in many subtle and not so subtle ways to slow down and smell the roses. No need to prove yourself and engage in overly strenuous activity. Take it easy, build up slowly and enjoy a long and healthy life.