Finally, there’s a way to improve your brain function that doesn’t involve Sudoku, crossword puzzles or an hour on the treadmill. According to researchers in the United Kingdom, you can give your brain a boost by having sex more often!
Recent finding: A study of 28 men and 45 women—all ages 50 to 83 —found that those who engaged in more frequent sexual activity scored higher on verbal fluency (this can be tested for by asking a person to name all the animals he/she can think of, for example, followed by as many words beginning with “F” as possible in 60 seconds) and visuospatial ability (this is often measured by asking a person to draw a clock face from memory). These tasks may seem abstract, but they give important clues about how the brain coordinates more complex behaviors in everyday life—for example, how people organize and prioritize information and tasks (such as remembering and ticking off items from a shopping list in your head as you navigate around the store). The participants who reported weekly sexual activity scored highest, with the verbal fluency tests showing the strongest effect.
Background: Previous research conducted in 2016 found that older adults who were sexually active scored higher on cognitive tests than those who were not sexually active. For the new study, the researchers specifically examined the impact of the frequency of sexual activity and used a broader range of tests to investigate different areas of cognitive function.
Participants divulged—via questionnaire—whether they engaged in sexual activity never, monthly or weekly, on average, over the past 12 months, and answered questions about their general health and lifestyle. They also took tests of attention, memory, verbal fluency, language and visuospatial ability. Language was assessed with basic tests of spelling and sentence construction—in the more traditional sense of reading, writing, speaking and listening. While the verbal fluency tests did require language, they relied much more on executive control to shift to new information (for example, from zoo animals to pets), update their memory and inhibit responses that had already been given.
Results: The study findings suggest that frequency of sexual activity is not linked to attention, memory or language. In these tests, the participants performed just as well regardless of how often they reported having sex, if at all. But weekly sexual activity was linked to better verbal fluency and visuospatial ability.
Implications: Lead researcher Hayley Wright, PhD, a research associate at Coventry University’s Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement, said, “We can only speculate whether this [result] is driven by social or physical elements—but an area we would like to research further is the biological mechanisms that may influence this.” For example, future research could look at how the neurotransmitters that are often increased by social interaction, such as dopamine, might influence the relationship between sexual activity and brain function. Dr. Wright adds, “We need to…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.”
Bottom line: Even though the causal link between frequent sex and better brain power is still not established, do you really need more research in order to try it? Give it a go…it’s surely more fun than doing another crossword puzzle.
Bonus: This welcome news comes on the heels of earlier research that links sexual activity to overall happiness!