Working out together as a couple will be good for your health and sex life.
Harvard Medical School, September 15, 2011
At some time in his life, nearly every man gets exercised about sex. And as many men get older, they wonder if sex is a good form of exercise or if it’s too strenuous for the heart. These questions may sound like locker room banter, but they are actually quite important — and they now have solid scientific answers.
Treadmill vs. mattress
Is it hard on the heart?
To evaluate the cardiovascular effects of sexual activity, researchers monitored volunteers while they walked on a treadmill in the lab and during private sexual activity at home. In addition to 13 women, the volunteers included 19 men with an average age of 55. About three-quarters of the men were married, and nearly 70% had some form of cardiovascular disease; 53% were taking beta blockers. Despite their cardiac histories, the men reported exercising about four times a week, and they reported having sexual activity about six times a month on average.
Researchers monitored heart rate and blood pressure during standard treadmill exercise tests and during “usual” sexual activity with a familiar partner at home. All the sex acts concluded with vaginal intercourse and male orgasm.
Disappointingly perhaps, the treadmill proved more strenuous. On an intensity scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest, men evaluated treadmill exercise as 4.6 and sex as 2.7. Sex was even less strenuous for women in terms of heart rate, blood pressure, and perceived intensity of exertion.
Sex as exercise
Men seem to spend more energy thinking and talking about sex than on the act itself. During sexual intercourse, a man’s heart rate rarely gets above 130 beats a minute, and his systolic blood pressure (the higher number, recorded when the heart is pumping blood) nearly always stays under 170. All in all, average sexual activity ranks as mild to moderate in terms of exercise intensity. As for oxygen consumption, it comes in at about 3.5 METS (metabolic equivalents), which is about the same as doing the foxtrot, raking leaves, or playing ping pong. Sex burns about five calories a minute; that’s four more than a man uses watching TV, but it’s about the same as walking the course to play golf. If a man can walk up two or three flights of stairs without difficulty, he should be in shape for sex.
Raking leaves may increase a man’s oxygen consumption, but it probably won’t get his motor running. Sex, of course, is different, and the excitement and stress might well pump out extra adrenaline. Both mental excitement and physical exercise increase adrenaline levels and can trigger heart attacks and arrhythmias, abnormalities of the heart’s pumping rhythm. Can sex do the same? In theory, it can. But in practice, it’s really very uncommon, at least during conventional sex with a familiar partner.
Careful studies show that fewer than one of every 100 heart attacks is related to sexual activity, and for fatal arrhythmias the rate is just one in 200. Put another way, for a healthy 50-year-old man, the risk of having a heart attack in any given hour is about one in a million; sex doubles the risk, but it’s still just two in a million. For men with heart disease, the risk is 10 times higher — but even for them, the chance of suffering a heart attack during sex is just 20 in a million. Those are pretty good odds.
How about Viagra?
Until recently, human biology has provided unintentional (and perhaps unwanted) protection for men with heart disease. That’s because many of the things that cause heart disease, such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels, also cause erectile dysfunction. The common link is atherosclerosis, which can damage arteries in the penis as well as in the heart.
Sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis) have changed that. About 70% of men with erectile dysfunction (ED) respond to the ED pills well enough to enable sexual intercourse. Sex may be safe for most men with heart disease, but are ED pills a safe way to have sex?
For men with stable coronary artery disease and well-controlled hypertension, the answer is yes — with one very, very important qualification. Men who are taking nitrate medications in any form cannot use ED pills. This restriction covers all preparations of nitroglycerin, including long-acting nitrates; nitroglycerin sprays, patches, and pastes; and amyl nitrate. Fortunately, other treatments for erectile function are safe for men with heart disease, even if they are using nitrates.
Sex is a normal part of human life. For all men, whether they have heart disease or not, the best way to keep sex safe is to stay in shape by avoiding tobacco, exercising regularly, eating a good diet, staying lean, and avoiding too much (or too little) alcohol. Needless to say, men should not initiate sexual activity if they are not feeling well, and men who experience possible cardiac symptoms during sex should interrupt the sexual activity at once.
With these simple guidelines and precautions, sex is safe for the heart — but it should be safe for the rest of the body, too. Sexually transmitted diseases pose a greater threat than sexually induced heart problems. When it comes to sex, men should use their brains as well as their hearts.
— Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Women’s Health Watch
When you’re in the mood, it’s a sure bet that the last thing on your mind is boosting your immune system or maintaining a healthy weight. Yet good sex offers those health benefits and more. That’s a surprise to many people, says Joy Davidson, PhD, a New York psychologist and sex therapist. “Of course, sex is everywhere in the media,” she says. “But the idea that we are vital, sexual creatures is still looked at in some cases with disgust or in other cases a bit of embarrassment. So to really take a look at how our sexuality adds to our life and enhances our life and our health, both physical and psychological, is eye-opening for many people.”
Sex does a body good in a number of ways, according to Davidson and other experts. The benefits aren’t just anecdotal or hearsay — each of these 10 health benefits of sex is backed by scientific scrutiny.
1. Sex Relieves Stress
A big health benefit of sex is lower blood pressure and overall stress reduction, according to researchers from Scotland who reported their findings in the journal Biological Psychology. They studied 24 women and 22 men who kept records of their sexual activity. Then the researchers subjected them to stressful situations — such as speaking in public and doing verbal arithmetic — and noted their blood pressure response to stress.
Those who had intercourse had better responses to stress than those who engaged in other sexual behaviors or abstained.
Another study published in the same journal found that frequent intercourse was associated with lower diastolic blood pressure in cohabiting participants. Yet other research found a link between partner hugs and lower blood pressure in women.
2. Sex Boosts Immunity
Good sexual health may mean better physical health. Having sex once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A or IgA, which can protect you from getting colds and other infections. Scientists at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., took samples of saliva, which contain IgA, from 112 college students who reported the frequency of sex they had.
Those in the “frequent” group — once or twice a week — had higher levels of IgA than those in the other three groups — who reported being abstinent, having sex less than once a week, or having it very often, three or more times weekly.
3. Sex Burns Calories
Thirty minutes of sex burns 85 calories or more. It may not sound like much, but it adds up: 42 half-hour sessions will burn 3,570 calories, more than enough to lose a pound. Doubling up, you could drop that pound in 21 hour-long sessions.
“Sex is a great mode of exercise,” says Patti Britton, PhD, a Los Angeles sexologist and president of the American Association of Sexuality Educators and Therapists. It takes work, from both a physical and psychological perspective, to do it well, she says.
4. Sex Improves Cardiovascular Health
While some older folks may worry that the efforts expended during sex could cause a stroke, that’s not so, according to researchers from England. In a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, scientists found that the frequency of sex was not associated with stroke in the 914 men they followed for 20 years.
And the heart health benefits of sex don’t end there. The researchers also found that having sex twice or more a week reduced the risk of fatal heart attack by half for the men, compared with those who had sex less than once a month.
5. Sex Boosts Self-Esteem
Boosting self-esteem was one of 237 reasons people have sex, collected by University of Texas researchers and published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
That finding makes sense to Gina Ogden, PhD, a sex therapist and marriage and family therapist in Cambridge, Mass., although she finds that those who already have self-esteem say they sometimes have sex to feel even better. “One of the reasons people say they have sex is to feel good about themselves,” she tells WebMD. “Great sex begins with self-esteem, and it raises it. If the sex is loving, connected, and what you want, it raises it.”
6. Sex Improves Intimacy
Having sex and orgasms increases levels of the hormone oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, which helps us bond and build trust. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of North Carolina evaluated 59 premenopausal women before and after warm contact with their husbands and partners ending with hugs. They found that the more contact, the higher the oxytocin levels.
“Oxytocin allows us to feel the urge to nurture and to bond,” Britton says.
Higher oxytocin has also been linked with a feeling of generosity. So if you’re feeling suddenly more generous toward your partner than usual, credit the love hormone.
7. Sex Reduces Pain
As the hormone oxytocin surges, endorphins increase, and pain declines. So if your headache, arthritis pain, or PMS symptoms seem to improve after sex, you can thank those higher oxytocin levels.
In a study published in the Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine, 48 volunteers who inhaled oxytocin vapor and then had their fingers pricked lowered their pain threshold by more than half.
8. Sex Reduces Prostate Cancer Risk
Frequent ejaculations, especially in 20-something men, may reduce the risk of prostate cancer later in life, Australian researchers reported in the British Journal of Urology International. When they followed men diagnosed with prostate cancer and those without, they found no association of prostate cancer with the number of sexual partners as the men reached their 30s, 40s, and 50s.
But they found men who had five or more ejaculations weekly while in their 20s reduced their risk of getting prostate cancer later by a third.
Another study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that frequent ejaculations, 21 or more a month, were linked to lower prostate cancer risk in older men, as well, compared with less frequent ejaculations of four to seven monthly.
9. Sex Strengthens Pelvic Floor Muscles
For women, doing a few pelvic floor muscle exercises known as Kegel exercises during sex offers a couple of benefits. You will enjoy more pleasure, and you’ll also strengthen the area and help to minimize the risk of incontinence later in life.
To do a basic Kegel exercise, tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor, as if you’re trying to stop the flow of urine. Count to three, then release.
10. Sex Helps You Sleep Better
The oxytocin released during orgasm also promotes sleep, according to research.
And getting enough sleep has been linked with a host of other good things, such as maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure. Something to think about, especially if you’ve been wondering why your guy can be active one minute and snoring the next.
Take note that sex is good for you in ways you may never have imagined and that the health benefits extend well beyond the bedroom.
What Can I do About Bumps on my Eyelids?
Harvard Medical School, September 15, 2011 —
Q. I’m 70 and in good health. My cholesterol levels are normal. Lately, I’ve started to get little yellow deposits on my eyelids, which I’m told are xanthelasma. What causes these, and how can I get rid of them?
A. Xanthelasma are soft, cholesterol-filled plaques that develop under the skin, usually on or around the eyelids and most often near the nose. They occur mainly in middle-aged and older adults — and in women more often than in men. Xanthelasma are always benign; that is, they’re not cancerous and they don’t spread the way a cancer might. They rarely impair vision. But they can be a sign of hyperlipidemia — elevated blood-fat levels.
About 50% of adults with xanthelasma have some type of hyperlipidemia. The plaques are especially common in people with inherited disorders of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) metabolism. They occur in 75% of older people with familial hypercholesterolemia (very high cholesterol levels) and in 10% of people with high levels of apolipoprotein B — which is not routinely measured in a routine cholesterol test (lipid panel). Xanthelasma are also common in people with primary biliary cirrhosis — an autoimmune condition affecting the bile system and the liver.
Because xanthelasma are associated with hyperlipidemia, which in turn is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, it’s important for anyone with these plaques to have a fasting lipid panel. Your family history of cardiovascular disease is also important. If your lipid panel is normal but you have a strong family history of coronary artery disease, you might ask your clinician to check levels of other lipoproteins, such as apolipoprotein B, which may be elevated despite a normal lipid panel.
If you have hyperlipidemia, exercise and a diet low in saturated and trans fat are essential; your clinician may also prescribe a medication, such as a statin. Treating any underlying lipid condition may reduce the size of xanthelasma. If you don’t have a strong family history of heart disease, you may be one of the many people with xanthelasma who have no lipid abnormality — in which case xanthelasma is largely a cosmetic problem. But for the sake of overall cardiovascular health, you should still pay attention to exercise and diet.
There are several ways to remove xanthelasma. These include cryotherapy (freezing the lesions with liquid nitrogen), laser ablation, surgical excision, electrodesiccation (destruction of the lesion with an electric needle), and chemical cauterization (application of a topical agent such as trichloroacetic acid to dissolve the plaques).
All of these treatments can cause some degree of scarring, and none of them stops xanthelasma from recurring or prevents new plaques from developing. If you’re interested in any of these treatments, be sure to see a specialist such as a dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon who has experience in treating the condition.
— Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Women’s Health Watch
Lost 5 Years, a Colorado Cat Finds Her Way to Manhattan
Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press
A man discovered Willow on East 20th Street on Wednesday and took her to a shelter.
The New York Times, GoogleNews.com, September 15, 2011 — A calico cat named Willow, who disappeared from a home near the Rocky Mountains five years ago, was found on Wednesday on a Manhattan street and will soon be returned to her family, where two of the three children and one of the two dogs may remember her.
How she got to New York, more than 1,800 miles away, and the kind of life she lived in the city are mysteries.
But thanks to a microchip that was implanted when she was a kitten, Willow will be reunited in Boulder, Colo., with her owners, the Squireses, who had long ago given up hope.
“There are tons of coyotes around here, and owls,” Jamie Squires said. “We put out the ‘lost cat’ posters and the Craigslist thing, but we actually thought she’d been eaten by coyotes.”
Ms. Squires said she and her husband, Chris, were shocked when they received a call about Willow on Wednesday from Animal Care and Control, which runs New York City’s animal rescue and shelter system. Ms. Squires said that when they saw a picture of the cat, they knew it was Willow.
Willow was found on East 20th Street by a man who took her to a shelter, and Julie Bank, executive director of Animal Care, said the microchip led to the Squires family.
“All our pets are microchipped,” Ms. Squires said. “If I could microchip my kids, I would.”
The Squires children are 17, 10 and 3, and they have a yellow Labrador named Roscoe, who knew Willow, and an English mastiff named Zoe.
Ms. Squires said Willow escaped in late 2006 or early 2007 when contractors left a door open during a home renovation.
Ms. Bank said Willow was healthy and well-mannered, and probably had not spent her life on the streets of Manhattan.
Animal Care and the Squireses were trying to arrange for transportation back to Colorado. In the interim, Willow may stay with a foster family in New York.
“The kids can’t wait to see her,” Ms. Squires said. “And we still have her little Christmas stocking.”