Sexual functioning and frequency improved by cardiac rehabilitation

Sexual functioning and frequency improved by cardiac rehabilitation
© iStock/Vasyl Dolmatov

According to Canadian Journal of Cardiology, exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation leads to better sexual functioning for patients with cardiovascular disease.

Although further investigation is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of sexual counselling interventions, a new comprehensive review of the literature comparing the sexual health of individuals with cardiovascular disease (CVD) who attended cardiac rehabilitation with patients who did not, found that rehab attendance is associated with improved sexual functioning and sexual frequency.

The link between exercising and sexual functioning

Karen L. Tang, MD, MSc, FRCPC, lead investigator and assistant professor, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Canada, explains: “As patients live longer with chronic CVD, it is important to focus not just on clinical effectiveness of interventions, but also to understand how interventions affect patients’ quality of life. We know that sexual activity is important to patients as it allows them to feel well and vital and close and connected with their partner.

“Evidence shows that patients with CVD suffer from decreased sexual activity due to physical limitations, medication side effects, and psychological barriers. Although CR has been shown to improve mortality and morbidity, this is the first review to explore its effects on sexual health outcomes.”

In the investigation, a variety of sexual health outcomes were assessed, including sexual resumption after a cardiac event, sexual function (primarily relating to erectile dysfunction), sexual frequency, and sexual satisfaction. The results indicate that there may be potential benefits from cardiac rehabilitation on sexual outcomes.

According to the investigators, cardiac rehabilitation may provide the perfect opportunity to address the sexual health of patients with CVD. Similar to assessing outcome measures, such as physical limitations and exercise capacity, it is important for physicians to ask about a patient’s sexual health before and after cardiac rehabilitation attendance.

Moreover, the majority of the rehabilitation programs in this particular review included lifestyle and risk factor reduction counselling components. Given their holistic nature, attendance in cardiac rehabilitation programs would also be a good time to address physical and psychological barriers to sexual activity.

Cardiac rehabilitation to be explored further

The investigators identify that further aspects require more exploration, such as the notion of whether exercise training in cardiac rehabilitation influences sexual health outcomes by increasing cardiovascular and muscle functioning.

Tang adds: “Understanding the importance of sexual health and the potential impacts that CR has on sexual outcomes are imperative in improving patient quality of life after a cardiovascular event. We need to more effectively examine how CR might be used and innovated to improve quality of life outcomes like sexual health.”

The study validates the benefit of exercise training and points to the need for more high-quality research to better understand the role of counselling and other therapies in easing the sexual repercussions of a cardiac event. The investigators also conclude that more evidence is needed to clarify whether cardiac rehabilitation has an impact on sexual satisfaction, sexual activity resumption, and other aspects of sexual health.


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