True, you don’t really need an excuse to enjoy a romp in the bedroom (or anywhere else, for that matter). But having sex isn’t just a great way to connect with your partner—it can also improve your heart health. Here are a few surprising benefits of doing the deed.
1. It counts as cardio.
If you’re not a fan of the treadmill, you can work up a sweat in the bedroom instead: Researchers determined that sexual activity is a moderate-intensity aerobic exercise that burns around 3 calories per minute in women. And like any aerobic exercise, sex can help strengthen your heart, lower your blood pressure, and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
But that doesn’t mean you should ditch your usual workout routine. “Sex is a low-impact exercise for most, and, on average, has been equated to only walking a mile in 20 minutes,” says Alfred Casale, MD, cardiologist and associate Chief medical officer at Geisinger. And the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, so unless you’re feeling particularly frisky, you’ll still need to lace up your sneakers a few times a week.
2. It could reduce your heart attack risk.
Having a heart attack in the heat of passion may be a popular movie cliché, but the odds of sex triggering a heart attack are slim; fewer than 1% of heart attacks are linked to sexual activity. In the long run, a healthy sex life may actually lower your risk of having a heart attack. A study tracked the sexual activity of middle-aged men over a 16-year period and found that those who had sex twice a week or more had a much lower risk of a heart attack than those who had sex once a month or less.
Of course, it’s hard to say for sure whether sex protects your heart or whether healthy people tend to have healthy sex lives to match. “It may be that a satisfying, regular sex life is a marker of a generally more meaningful, wellness-focused life,” Casale says.
3. It’s an effective stress-buster.
Sexual activity boosts the production of feel-good hormones and endorphins, which can ease stress and improve your mood. “A satisfying, warm physical experience—as part of an intimate relationship that’s affirming in many ways—certainly lessens overall stress and increases a sense of well-being,” Casale says. “Anything that relaxes a person and lowers their feelings of anxiety will benefit their cardiovascular health.”
4. It keeps you connected.
Feeling warm and fuzzy has a bigger effect on your ticker than you might realize. Loneliness is a known risk factor for heart disease, while social support (yep, including intimate relationships!) is literally good for the heart.
That means it’s most likely the feeling of connectedness that does wonders for your heart, so don’t seek out a booty call solely for the cardio benefits. “If a good sex life is part of a caring, connected life, your heart will benefit,” Casale says. “If it’s just a physical behaviour, it’s not very good exercise. A 15-minute jog will probably be better for your heart.”
5. It’ll help you sleep better.
Not only do those feel-good chemicals help your state of mind, but they also relax your body, making it easier to get a good night’s sleep. According to a recent Australian study, 64% of people reported sleeping better after an orgasm—and better sleep, in turn, may translate to better heart health.
“Poor sleep has been closely connected with elevated blood pressure, obesity, and higher risk of heart disease,” says Chris Brantner, certified sleep science coach and founder of SleepZoo.com. Chalk that up as one more way better heart health starts between the sheets.
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.
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