Declining brain power is a real worry for some people as they age, but new research from England suggests a fun and healthy way to keep your mind sharp, no matter how old you get - sex. According to the study, frequent sexual activity has been linked to improved brain function in older adults, adding yet another health benefit to everyone’s favorite activity.
The study, published online in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences, found that people who had sex more frequently scored higher on tests to measure their verbal fluency and their ability to visually perceive objects and spaces between them. This suggests that sex can act as a sort of exercise for the brain, helping to keep it sharp as we age, though researchers aren't sure exactly why.
"We can only speculate whether this is driven by social or physical elements -- but an area we would like to research further is the biological mechanisms that may influence this,” Lead researcher Dr Hayley Wright said in a recent statement on ScienceDaily. "Every time we do another piece of research we are getting a little bit closer to understanding why this association exists at all, what the underlying mechanisms are, and whether there is a 'cause and effect' relationship between sexual activity and cognitive function in older people.
For the study, the team from Coventry University and Oxford University interviewed 73 people between 50 and 83 years old about their sex lives. The volunteers were asked to fill out a questionnaire which asked how often they had sex, as well as other general questions about their health and lifestyle. The volunteers also took a standardized test that measured different aspect of their cognitive function, such as their ability to pay attention and remember facts, as well as their language and visuospatial skills. Results revealed that increased sexual activity was linked to increased verbal fluency and visuospatial skills. However, sexual activity seemed to have no affect on their attention skills, memory, or language.
This isn't the first study to look into the benefits of sex in older individuals. For example, in 2016, the same team found that the protective effects of sex on the brain were stronger in men than women. The team speculate that sex may help protect the brain through the release of dopamine and oxytocin, two hormones that not only cause good feelings, but are also vital to brain function by improving connectivity between certain parts of the brain.
Regardless of why sex is helpful for the brains of older individuals, these results suggest that sex is an important part of our health and shouldn't be discarded just because you age.
"People don't like to think that older people have sex -- but we need to challenge this conception at a societal level and look at what impact sexual activity can have on those aged 50 and over, beyond the known effects on sexual health and general wellbeing," said Wright.
Source: Wright H, Jenks RA, Demeyere N. Frequent Sexual Activity Predicts Specific Cognitive Abilities in Older Adults. The Journals of Gerontology Series B. 2017.