There is research piled upon research telling us that to maintain our cognitive function as we grow old, we must exercise, eat lots of fruit and vegetables and keep our minds busy.
Now there may be a fourth aid to elder mental wellbeing:
“After accounting for effects of potential contributory factors (age, education, wealth, levels of physical activity, cohabiting status, general health, depression, loneliness and quality of life), we found a significant association between sexual activity and higher scores on tests of cognitive function in people over the age of 50 years,” writes Dr. Hayley Wright at the Oxford University Press Blog.
Wright conducted this study at the Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement at Coventry University, England. The data for the study was taken from 6800 men and women ages 50 to 89 who were already participating in a long-term study on ageing.
”The participants were asked whether they had engaged in sexual activity over the past 12 months,” reports cbsnews.com. “The researchers used a broad definition of sexual activity in the study – it included having intercourse, masturbating, petting or fondling.”
The participants then completed two cognitive tests – one that measured memory of ten common words and a second involving executive function - filling in missing numbers in a numerical series.
Sorry women, sex appears to do more good for men's brains than women's. Men who were more sexually active showed higher scores on both kinds of tests. Women scored well only on the memory test.
One reason men score higher, they say, may have something to do with hormonal differences that could influence brain function in different ways but much more research is needed in all aspects of this study before a definitive claim can be made that sex is good for your brain.
As CBSnews.com noted in their report, 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...
“[In one followup study] 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...”
As Wright points out in the full study at Age and Aging, there is much more work to be done but the results so far are promising.
“The findings have implications for the promotion of sexual counselling in healthcare settings, where maintaining a healthy sex life in older age could be instrumental in improving cognitive function and well-being.”
It's hard to see how the results will not be positive and Dr. Wright clearly is hopeful:
”With all the previous research on healthy lifestyles and cognitive function, wouldn't it be nice to add 'healthy sex life' to our checklist for mental and physical wellbeing in older age?”
Once that is established, all that Wright and her research cohorts will have to do is figure out where unmarried old people are going to get all this sex.