Exercise and sex are two aspects of normal N Urri.,g that men with heart disease often -l-Jfear. However, a study from Italy shows that moderate exercise boosts sexual function in these men, including the quality of their erections... and they also reported improvements in their relationships with their partners.

The study included 59 men whose chronic heart failure had been stable for at least three months. Half of the men took part in a supervised exercise program of riding a stationary bicycle and stretching three times a week over an eight-week period...the other group did nothing. The couch potato group showed no improvement in either their heart disease or sexual functioning at the end of the two months, while the exercisers showed an increase in oxygen uptake during exercise (measured by a sophisticated test that shows how well the patient is absorbing oxygen) and the aforementioned improvement in sexual function. Researchers theorize that this might be because exercise improves blood vessel function and blood vessel lining (the endothelium).


Cardiologist Holly S. Andersen, MD, at the New York-Presbyterian Weill/Cornell Medical Center in New York City spoke about the study. She points out that there is a much larger population of people who are living with coronary disease because medicine has become so good at keeping them alive...and that the quality-of-life issue has become especially important nov/. Dr. Andersen is enthusiastic about exercise for all of her patients, encouraging even the sickest ones to have some form of modest exercise. However, she specifies that they should do aerobic or stretch exercise only. Strength training increases pressure on the cardiovascular system and strains it—and it is definitely not recommended.

Dr. Andersen says that patients must start slowly and gradually build up their acrivity. Varming up and cooling down are also important. She stresses that patients plan their exercise activity with guidelines from the doctor who may well recommend supervised exercise to start. By performing aerobic activities such as walking, swimming or riding the stationary bike, she explains that patients allow their blood vessels to dilate, have better oxygen uptake and increase their heart performance.

Dr. Andersen says the rule of thumb is that when a patient can climb two flights of stairs (a la Jack Nicholson in the movie Something's Gotta Give), he is ready for sex with a familiar partner. Interestingly, relations with someone new is considerably more stressful, and likely needs a doctor's okay. She adds that patients who resume physical intimacy should be sure to continue to get some regular aerobic exercise out of bed.

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