It seems impossible to get through winter without hearing a news story about some poor guy who drops dead of a heart attack while shoveling snow.
And TV dramas love the scene where the guy expires while in bed with a beauteous babe. Now it looks like both scenarios have a basis in science.
The risk of heart attack does increase right after this kind of physical activity, according to a new study in the JAMA. The relative risk increases 3.5 times, according to researchers at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, who analyzed more than a dozen studies and compared the results. But since the risk goes up for just an hour or two, a person's actual risk increases very little.
In an effort to get a grip on that number, Shots called up researchers Issa Dahabreh and Jessica Paulus for a little chat. They said that if 10,000 people exercised once a week for an entire year, the entire group would have only 2 to 3 more heart attacks overall.
"People aren't generally engaged in physical or sexual activity constantly," Paulus says. That means "they contribute very little to a person's overall risk."
But doing a lot more exercise — or having a lot more sex — would actually reduce the risk of one of these activity-triggered heart attacks, the researchers say.
Indeed, the researchers don't want people to shun exercise — or sex — because of their study. "Hopefully no one misunderstands our point," says Dahabreh. "We are a little bit worried that people will think that this is a risk for exercise."
If you are considering taking up one of these activities, take it easy at first, Paulus says. "Those people who are unaccustomed to exercise do need to do so very gradually and very carefully."
The bottom line: Do it more. The benefits of regular physical activity more than make up for an increased heart attack risk for most people.