Official Says Have Sex for Health; Does it Work?

Brazil's Minister of Health has created a stir this week by suggesting that to get healthier, his country's people try to have sex five times a week.

Minister Jose Gomes Temporao said he's worried about Brazilians' rising rates of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, so along with the usual advice on diet and exercise, he thought people should make love more often.

"It's not a joke, I'm serious. Getting physical exercise regularly also means having sex, obviously protected sex," Temporao told reporters Monday in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia, according to the U.K's Telegraph. His remarks were part of the launch of a campaign to reduce blood pressure in Brazil.

The Brazilian Health Ministry reported that that 21.5 percent of Brazilians had high blood pressure in 2006, and the number increased to 24.4 percent in 2009, according to the Associated Press.

The idea might appeal to some regardless of their health goals, but experts are divided on just how beneficial sex can be for preventing chronic diseases.

Take exercise -- researchers say when it comes to the simple physical health benefits of working out, sex hardly compares to riding a bike.

"You're not going to get the same [physical health] benefit as going out for a two-mile jog," said Dr. Jamie Feldman, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

Looking at the standard unit of exercise called METs (metabolic units), Feldman said sexual activity ranges from 2 METs to 3 or 4 METs during orgasm. That's on par with walking at 2 miles per hour on level ground. By comparison, a leisurely bike ride clocks in at 6-7 METs.

"Sexual activity provides some degree of modest exercise," said Feldman, who added that every little bit of activity counts. "But it's not the same as getting moderate exercise for 30 minutes a day."

"Some people might like it more than jogging --- so in that sense that is helpful," she said.

Don't Cancel Your Gym Membership Just Yet

But some researchers won't even go that far. Although people might get out of breath or break into a sweat when they make love, experts say it can't realistically go on for long enough to bring the health benefits that a regular workout does.

"Exercise has to be of a certain duration and intensity," said Walter R. Thompson, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and regents professor of Kinesiology & Health at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

"As intense as active sex can be, it's not just as long of a duration to see any physiological benefit in terms of exercise," he said.

But other researchers say sex does lead to a healthier life, even if the correlation is subtle and not precisely understood.

"There is an extreme dearth of research in this area," said Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a clinical professor of surgery at the University of California at San Diego and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

"It's not something the NIH spills millions of dollars into to see how orgasm makes people feel better," said Goldstein.

But, Goldstein said, large reviews of many studies have shown a correlation between a healthy sex life and a healthy, long life.

For instance a large review of the literature published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found a correlation between a healthy sex life and a lower risk for prostate cancer, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease.

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