One of the most common questions asked by patients with high blood pressure, heart disease, or other heart conditions is whether or not it's safe for them to engage in sexual activity.

While this is certainly a question worth asking, it's important to recognize there's a great deal of misinformation out there regarding heart health and sex. Take a look at these three commonly asked questions about sex and heart health:

Just how strenuous is too strenuous?

Movies and television have done a phenomenal job of painting a picture of sex as a major athletic workout. While this is certainly within the realm of possibility, it isn't exactly the most likely situation. Frankly, many sexual encounters simply don't last long enough or become vigorous enough to push our bodies beyond their limits.

This impression, that sex is always an exhausting cardiovascular experience, is what has led to the belief that sex may be a good workout for healthy people, but it’s very risky for those with heart disease or other heart conditions. Here’s a reality check: according to the Cleveland Clinic, most sexual experiences lasting between five and 15 minutes are relatively equivalent, from a cardiovascular perspective, to walking a mile in 20 minutes. More specifically, each partner in that situation would likely have an average heart rate between 110 and 120, which is not particularly hard on the heart.

Can sex benefit your health in general?

Absolutely. But it's important to understand that there are limitations to what sex can actually do for you. First and foremost, sex shouldn't replace a normal regimen of heart-healthy activity. As stated above, the typical intimate encounter is roughly equivalent to walking one mile over 20 minutes. Unless your workouts are less intense than this in general, don't use sex as a supplement for exercise. That said, it's been reported by multiple health agencies that regular sexual activity can lead to being happier, healthier, and having lower stress levels.

Do I need to see a doctor?

If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or have had cardiac episodes in the past, then the simple answer to this question is yes. According to the American Heart Association, it's important for those who have been recently diagnosed with heart disease to speak with their doctor about whether sex is safe for them. No two individuals are the same, so it's best to get your doctor’s advice about your unique health profile.