Studies Prove Sex Boosts Cognitive Function in the Elderly
Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in America. About one in three seniors have Alzheimer's or another type of dementia at the time of their death. Dementia takes a huge toll on the well-being of those who suffer from it, as well as their family members and caretakers.
You can drastically lower your risk of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia by taking good care of your brain health as you age. Otherwise, age-related cognitive decline can evolve into dementia. Even if it doesn't, cognitive decline can interfere with your ability to function normally in life.
Study Shows Sex Boosts Cognitive Function
Older adults who have sex at least once a week score better on cognitive tests, compared to people who have sex only once a month (or not at all). This has been proven by researchers at the University of Oxford as well as Coventry University.
The study in question was published in the Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences. The researchers collected the necessary data from 73 volunteers who had an average of 62. They asked the participants about their frequency of sexual activity, then had them take tests that measured their memory, attention, language use, verbal fluency and ability to visualize objects and spaces. The study results showed a clear link between frequent sexual activity and good cognitive skills. The nature of the study means that it does not prove direct cause-and-effect, though researchers suspect this may be the case.
This is certainly not the first study that looks at factors affecting cognition in seniors. Other studies demonstrate various things that correlate with better cognitive function as you age—for example, an active social life and getting plenty of exercise also improve cognitive testing scores.
Scientists aren't quite sure yet exactly why there is this correlation between sexual activity and cognitive function. The authors of the study note that sexual activity has very complex effects on physical and psychological well-being. But, it is not just partnered sex that seems to confer the cognitive benefits—the questionnaires distributed to the study participants including such things as masturbation and simple foreplay in their definition of sexual activity. As you get older, making use of your sexuality in any way that suits you personally will benefit your brain health and cognitive function.
Need More Proof? Large Study Confirms Sex/Brain Health Link
A much larger study, also conducted at Coventry University, provides even stronger proof of the link between sexual activity and cognitive function in older adults. This study recruited over 6,800 volunteers between the ages of 50 and 89. As with the smaller studies, the participants answered questionnaires about their sex lives and then took part in cognitive tests. The results of this study also showed that having sex is associated with a better cognitive function.
The researchers that conducted this larger study speculate that the effect of sex on cognition is due to the neurotransmitters dopamine and oxytocin, which are released into the brain during sexual activities. These chemicals might have the effect of improving connectivity within the brain, boosting cognition.
The fact that sex boosts cognitive function in the elderly follows a general trend of researching showing staying engaged in life—active all the same social, physical and mental aspects of life as when you were younger—is very important for protecting your neurological health and well-being as you get older.
Maintaining Both a Healthy Sex Life and a Healthy Brain
Arguably, the single most powerful thing you can do for your sexual function and your cognition is to exercise regularly. There have been multiple studies on the effects of exercise on the brain. For example, one study found that young adults who exercise regularly benefit from preserved memory and thinking into middle age, while another study has found that middle-aged people who stay physically active are less likely to develop dementia as they get older. The brain health benefits of exercise are because physical activity releases a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This compound stimulates neurogenesis, i.e. the growth of new brain cells.
Getting a good amount of exercise will also improve your sexual well-being. It greatly improves circulation, which subsequently makes it easier to get aroused and can even improve sensation. Exercise also releases neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, and having higher levels of these chemicals is associated with a higher sex drive. This is great news, since, after all, you need a healthy sex drive in order to reap the neurological benefits of frequent sex.
The very least amount of exercise an adult should get for optimal health is 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. One minute of vigorous exercise counts for two minutes of moderate exercise. For example, half an hour of moderate jogging five days a week fulfills this goal, and so does 25 minutes of vigorous running, three days a week. If you can go above and beyond this benchmark, even better—you will only see more and more benefits in your sexual health and cognition.
The key to turning exercise into a lifelong habit is to find something you truly enjoy. This could be anything from hiking in the woods, swimming, playing tennis with your partner or jogging on a treadmill while you watch your favorite T.V. show. Try many forms of exercise to find something you genuinely like doing and make it a weekly habit.