A return to normalcy: Resuming sexual activity soon after a heart attack boosts survival

Resuming sexual activity within a few months of an acute myocardial infarction (AMI) is associated with a significant increase in long-term survival, according to new research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

The authors tracked nearly 500 sexually active patients who were hospitalized for a first AMI from 1992 to 1993. The average patient age was 53 years old and 90% were men. Each study participant reported their sexual activity for the year preceding the AMI and then three to six months following the AMI; they were then categorized as belonging in a “maintained/increased” group and an “abstained/decreased” group.

After a median follow-up period of 22 years, 43% patients participating in the study had died. Looking over the data, and accounting for a variety of other factors, the researchers found maintaining or increasing sexual activity after an AMI was connected to a 35% lower risk of mortality.

“Improved physical fitness, stronger spouse relations, and a mental ability to ‘bounce back’ from the initial shock of the event within a few months are among the possible explanations for the survival benefit observed among the maintained/increased group,” corresponding author Yariv Gerber, PhD, a professor at Tel Aviv University in Israel, said in a prepared statement. “On the other hand, patients who perceive their health as poor might be less likely to start having sex again. They may also be less likely to adhere to cancer screening tests and other prevention practices during follow-up. This may explain the strong inverse association between resumption of sexual activity and cancer mortality that was seen in our study.”

The study did have certain limitations, including its observational design and the high percentage of male participants, but the authors still believe their analysis can provide AMI patients with much-needed clarity.

“These findings should serve to reduce patients’ concerns about returning to their usual level of sexual activity soon after a heart attack,” Gerber said.  

The full analysis from the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology is available here.