Sexual activity in older age is a subject that is increasingly being researched, and an interesting study was just published in the journal Age and Ageing by researchers from the Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour, and Achievement at Coventry University (UK). They found that people who are more sexually active as they get older appear to have better functioning of the brain, in particular, their memory.
How our brain functions as we age has been associated with our overall health, whether or not we are depressed or lonely, and if we are physically active, among other factors. But these British researchers wanted to see if sexual activity we were as we age influenced our brainpower.
They surveyed 6,833 men and women between the age of 50 and 89 who were taking part in a long-term study called the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The research volunteers answered a detailed survey about whether or not they were sexually active to a significant degree, by asking about sexual activities with others, as well as sexual activities enjoyed by themselves alone.
They then tested each of these adults with two tests of mental functioning. In one test, the subjects heard a list of 10 words and, after a short delay, they were asked to recall as many of the words as they could. The other test involved what the researchers called test of their brain’s “executive function”, which involved hearing a sequence of numbers with one number missing, and then the subject was asked which number was missing.
The results showed that the men who were sexually active performed better, to a mild degree, on both brain tests, while the women who were sexually active performed better on the test of recall of the list of words. The improvement was mild, in the neighborhood of 10%, but was considered significant.
This study does not mean necessarily that the sexual activity itself caused the brains of these individuals to function better, but that was the researchers’ suspicion, as they tried to control for other factors such the subjects’ education level, physical activity, overall health, and other factors.
Why sexual activity might help the brain
A reason that sexual activity may be helping the brain of older individuals (and probably younger ones as well), is that sex may act similar to meditation and exercise, lowering our stress level and releasing neurotransmitters in the brain that improve the functioning of the synapse that connect nerve cells together.
While this study is far from definitive, it gives more evidence that maintaining an active sex life as we get older is not only good for us psychologically and physically, but also may help keep our memory and executive brain functions working better.
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