Are You Healthy Enough for Sex?

Senior Couple taking selfie

As you age, many health factors begin to affect your sex life, from heart problems to ED. This post shares tips for staying sexually active in your later years.

We’ve all seen the commercials: a pair of empty nesters looking over a horizon while soaking in bathtubs. A happy couple exchanging gazes over the dinner dishes. Men talking to their doctors about a variety of little pills including Viagra, Levitra and Cialis. And then somewhere in these ads the narrator tosses in a reminder to “ask your doctor if you’re healthy enough for sex.” Hmmm?

Suddenly “safe sex” means something different than it did in younger years. Now, it’s possible your heart isn’t up to the task.

Matters of the Heart

When determining what level of activity is “too much” sex is looked at as any other physical activity. Many doctors evaluate the risk using the Metabolic Equivalent of Tasks (MET) scale. This is a scale that ranges from one to 20, charting low exertion activities like watching television (1.0) all the way up to extreme physical challenges like full-speed sprinting (20.0). Keeping in mind that levels vary from one couple to the next, MET averages sexual exertion to be around 2.5 peaking at 4.0 during climax. The scale works in ranges, so even the most vigorous couples probably don’t exert themselves beyond a 6.0 or the equivalent of a tennis game.

Doctors will typically advise patients, particularly those who have recently suffered a heart attack or those at risk for one, what MET level is healthy for their physical condition. For instance, if someone cannot comfortably walk up a flight of stairs without chest pain and shortness of breath, sexual overexertion may present a health risk. On the other hand, the best way to lower your risk of having a heart attack during sex is to begin exercising regularly. This helps to condition the heart and build up tolerance for physical activity.

The Role of ED Drugs

Drugs such as Viagra and Cialis work by increasing nitric oxide levels in the blood vessels, helping to open them up and increase blood flow. This in turn lowers the blood pressure. The pills themselves don’t raise the risk of cardiac problems. What does present a risk is the sudden burst of activity that comes with an older, out-of-shape man, for example, attempting to reignite his sex life. He faces the same risks as if he ran a race without any prior conditioning.

While erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs are safe for those on blood pressure medication, men with unmanaged high blood pressure or who have suffered a recent heart attack should consult with their doctor about the risks of sexual activity. Nitroglycerine tablets should never be mixed with ED drugs, as the combination can lower blood pressure to dangerous levels.

senior woman

What about the Ladies?

Despite the focus on men’s sexual fitness in ED commercials, women who have suffered a recent heart attack or are in a high-risk group should also consult their doctor about the risk of sex and other vigorous activities. Aside from cardiac complications women who undergo any type of vaginal surgery or procedure should get clearance from their gynecologists before resuming sexual activity.

Mind Over Matter

But, more than anything else, the biggest health hurdle to resuming sexual activity after a stagnant period is psychological. Sex can cause anxiety for the person with the issue as well as their spouse, especially after an illness or hospitalization. Try bringing your spouse to your doctors’ appointments so you both understand what the doctor is advising and each person has the opportunity to ask questions. Of course, if you ever experience any symptoms while having sex, stop and seek medical attention.