If you want to know how to get smarter, put down the crossword puzzle and simply slip between the sheets with your significant other. Research into the unexpected health benefits of sex continues and the latest findings, from the universities of Coventry and Oxford in the United Kingdom, reveal that older adults who had sex every week had improved brain function, scoring higher on tests of mental challenges including memory and verbal fluency.
The study, published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences, involved 73 people (28 men and 45 women) between the ages of 50 and 83. Each participant answered questions on how often, on average, they engaged in sexual activity over the past 12 months (never, weekly, or monthly) and general health/lifestyle issues. They also took part in a standardized test typically used to measure different patterns of brain function in older adults, focusing on attention, memory, fluency, language, and visuospatial ability.
Participants who engaged in weekly sexual activity scored the most highly in the tests focusing on verbal fluency and visuospatial ability (one gave participants 60 seconds to name as many animals as possible, while another asked them to draw a clock face from memory), suggesting that frequency of sexual activity was not linked to attention, memory or language. In those tests, participants’ scores showed no link to how often they had sex.
The study builds on previous research from 2016, which found that older adults who were sexually active scored higher on cognitive tests than those who were not sexually active. However, the new research was more specific in terms of how often the participants engaged in sexual activity.
“We can only speculate whether this is driven by social or physical elements—but an area we would like to research further is the biological mechanisms that may influence this,” says lead researcher Hayley Wright, MD, from Coventry University’s Centre for Research in Psychology, Behavior, and Achievement. “Every time we do another piece of research we are getting a little bit closer to understanding why this association exists at all, what the underlying mechanisms are, and whether there is a ’cause and effect’ relationship between sexual activity and cognitive function in older people. People don’t like to think that older people have sex—but we need to challenge this conception at a societal level and look at what impact sexual activity can have on those aged 50 and over, beyond the known effects on sexual health and general well-being.”