Sex linked to better brain power in older age
By Cari Nierenberg
March 4, 2016, 9:35 AM
People over age 50 who are more sexually active also have better memory and
cognitive skills than people who get busy less often, a new study from England
Sex appeared to give men's brains a bigger boost than women's: Men who were
more sexually active showed higher scores on tests of memory skills and executive
function — the mental processes involved in planning, solving problems and paying
attention — whereas women who were more sexually active saw only a higher score
in their memory skills, according to the findings, published online Jan. 28 in the
journal Age and Ageing.
The study shows that there is a significant association between sexual activity and
cognitive function in adults over 50, said study author Hayley Wright, a researcher in
cognitive aging at the Centre for Research in Psychology, Behavior and Achievement
at Coventry University in England.
The researchers looked at data collected from more than 6,800 men and women
ages 50 to 89 in England who were participating in a long-term study on aging.
The participants were asked whether they had engaged in sexual activity over the
past 12 months. The researchers used a broad definition of sexual activity in the
study — it included having intercourse, masturbating, petting or fondling.
Participants also completed two cognitive tests. One was a recall test designed to
measure memory, in which people were asked to remember a list of 10 common
words immediately after hearing them, and then again following a brief delay. A
second task, which gauged executive function, involved identifying the missing
number in a numerical sequence.
There hasn't been much research on how sexual activity may influence older adults'
thinking skills, the researchers said. The few prior studies that investigated the topic
showed that sexual activity was linked with better cognition in older men.
The new study found that sexually active men and women scored higher than
sexually inactive adults on the word-recall and number-sequencing tasks.
For older men, the link between scoring more in the bedroom and scoring higher on
tests of memory and executive function held even after the researchers took into
account other variables that could also affect test outcomes, such as age, education,
financial status, health, physical activity and loneliness, the study found.
After similar variables were taken into consideration, the researchers also found that
sexually active older women only had higher scores on memory tests than women
who were not sexually active.
The reason sexually active older men had higher scores on both the memory test and
the executive-function test, whereas women's sex lives appeared to benefit only their
memory skills, may be due to hormonal differences that may influence brain function
in men and women in different ways, Wright said.
The study demonstrated an association between sexual activity and cognitive
function, and was not meant to show a cause-and-effect relationship. It's too early to
tell whether sex is one way for older adults to keep their minds sharp or whether it is
the other way around — that people who want a long and healthy sex life should start
by doing things that are good for the brain, such as being physically and mentally
active and eating a healthy diet.
Wright said that several other research projects will be done as follow-ups to this
study. In one of them, which is nearly complete, the researchers are analyzing the
data to understand the effect of factors — such as the frequency and type of sexual
activity, as well as relationship satisfaction — on cognitive function scores in older
Originally published on Live Science.
Reprinted with permission