Risk of Coronary After Sex Higher for the Deskbound

BOSTON—The analysis revealed that the indolent are at higher risk for a heart attack in the few hours after sexual activity than those who exercise regularly, and some headlines are labeling those at risk “couch potatoes," which makes perfect sense. But another group that is probably equally at risk is your average adult webmaster, a human sub-species that is generally not known for physical activity that involves anything more rigorous that moving a computer mouse or lifting one’s arm from a bar top to one’s mouth.

A paper on the findings has been published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Its authors—Issa J. Dahabreh, M.D., and Jessica K. Paulus, Sc.D.—analyzed 10 studies that investigated episodic physical activity, three studies that investigated sexual activity and one study that investigated both exposures.

They concluded, according to CNN, “Exercising or having sex just about triples a person's risk of heart attack in the hours immediately afterward, especially if the person does those activities infrequently.”

The good news is that the risk for any individual is actually quite negligible: “on the order of 3 in 1,000,000, as opposed to 1 in 1,000,000,” reported CNN.

"Definitely, one should not interpret our findings as meaning that physical activity or sexual activity are dangerous or harmful," says Dahabreh, a researcher at Tufts Medical Center's Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies. "The effect at an individual level is small."

Still, people who exercise regularly have a much smaller increase in risk, if any, said the doctor. The analysis was not the first time that health risks associated with physical activity such as exercise or sex have been studied, but this was the first analysis of several relevant studies that calculated the actual magnitude of risk. The authors concluded that in the few hours after exercising, “a person's risk of heart attack increased about 3.5 times, while his or her risk increased about 2.7 times within two hours of having sex. Physical activity also quintupled the risk of sudden death due to cardiac arrest,” reported CNN.

The authors put it this way, in doctor-speak: “Acute cardiac events were significantly associated with episodic physical and sexual activity; this association was attenuated among persons with high levels of habitual physical activity.”

One practical suggestion the authors made was, not surprisingly, that those of us who are normally sedentary and want to get back into shape should do so slowly. An author of one of the studies included in the analysis—Geoffrey Tofler, M.D., a professor of preventive cardiology at the University of Sydney Medical School, in Australia—put the risk revealed by the analysis into perspective.

"If a healthy 50-year-old person has [a] one-in-a-million chance of having a heart attack in any given hour,” he said, “tripling the risk will still only make three chances in a million of a heart attack in that hour.”

Tofler also said that the study should in fact alleviate concerns of those diagnosed with heart disease or returning to shape following a heart attack. “In conjunction with a return to regular physical activity,” he said, “sexual activity carries a minimal risk.”

Though not mentioned in the paper or news reports, it can be safely assumed that most if not all of the conclusions arrived at as a result of the analysis are generally applicable to adult webmasters.