How Sex Improves Cognitive Function in Old Age
Good for the body, the spirit and, apparently, the wit. Turns out that the physical love act has quite a few benefits to the cognitive facilities of whoever engages in it. And the older the person is, the more the brain benefits from sex. Surprising effects of sex on the brain have been slowly discovered over the last few decades. While some findings may be unexpected, ultimately, they make sense on an evolutionary level.
After all, if any cognitive consequences from a biologically essential activity could be expected, it only makes sense for them to be beneficial. Here's how sex can boost the brain's longevity and performance in old age.
Sex promotes the production of new neurons
Neuron production in the brain is a process known as neurogenesis. And it shouldn’t be too surprising to find that sex can help boost the process given that it is a form of physical exercise on its own and that it triggers the secretion of DHEA, oxytocin and other substances. Physical exercise is now well-established as one of the best ways to promote cognitive health throughout life. A direct causal link between sex and neurogenesis has been found in several studies. The love act also graces the brain with an avalanche of nutrients and hormones that assist neurogenesis and improve overall cognition and mood.
Sex improves memory function and reduces the risk of dementia
Studies have shown that regular sex stimulates the cellular growth in the hippocampus. This has been directly observed in rats, and such association has been found in humans as well. This region of the brain plays a key role in the memory process. Sexual activity may, therefore, help improve memory and minimize progressive memory loss as a result of aging.
In a 2016 study by Coventry University, UK, nearly 7000 people (middle-aged and older) were asked to complete a few cognitive tests. Scientists also had access to details of the participants' sexual lives from an ongoing longitudinal study (ELSA) in the UK. After analyzing the data and test results, they found that the most sexually active participants tended to perform better in a word recall test.
By virtue of its cell rejuvenating benefits, regular sex also helps prevent (or at least delay) the onset of Alzheimer's and other types of neurodegenerative diseases. The ability of sex to preserve some level of cognitive function has been recently documented in another study also carried out by Coventry University in collaboration with Oxford. In this much smaller study, 73 people aged 50 to 83 were asked details about their sexual lives during the 12-month prior to the study, and completed a series of standardized tests that measured their cognitive ability on several parameters. Again, the most sexually active participants performed the best on the tests that measured verbal fluency and visuospatial ability - two highly prevalent factors in current standardized tests of intelligence (IQ).