Sex Improves Brain Health

by | May 21, 2012 | Health & News

Can’t remember the last time you had sex?

Well maybe it’s time to share some intimacy with your partner!

It has long been known that exercise may have many health benefits, decreasing mortality, improving cardiovascular function and decreasing risk of heart attack, enhancing cognitive functioning and improving depression. This effect has been shown in older individuals as well as in individuals who complain of memory difficulty. Many of us may fear that we are developing “pre-senile dementia” when we experience minor memory lapses during the day. Most likely these are due to fatigue and brain overload, rather than true brain pathology. Yet, if we implement new health strategies, like more sex and exercise, we will be improving our brain function.

When do we start seeing decreased mental sharpness?

It is now estimated there are more than 36 million people in the US over the age of 65 and that many of them will be impacted by cognitive decline and brain atrophy associated with normal aging. Strong evidence indicates that memory and cognitive skills start declining by age 50. (1). The prevalence of dementia ranges from 5% to 10% (2.) and that of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) ranges from 12% – 18% (3). This decline in cognitive tasks has a critical impact on the quality of life. To improve the quality of life, it is essential for individuals of all ages to implement healthy strategies to improve brain health –and wouldn’t having more sex be a fun way to do this?

How does having more sex help the brain?

With any form of exercise – and let’s face it, sex is a form of exercise – blood flow increases. The increased circulation of blood transports oxygen-enriched blood to the hypothalamus, the center of the brain for memory and learning. One study done by Yaffe and colleagues followed over 5,900 women (more than 65 years old) for 6 to 8 years with baseline self-report exercise measures (4). Women with a greater physical activity level at baseline experienced less cognitive decline during the 6 to 8 years of follow-up: cognitive decline occurred in 17%, 18%, 22% and 24% of those in the highest, third, second and lowest quartiles of blocks walked per week, respectively.

This also holds true for men. In a study of 2,257 men, the risk of dementia was 1.8 fold increased in men who walked the least (less than 0.25 miles/day) compared to those who walked more than 2 miles/day (17.8 versus 10.3/1,000 person-years) (5).

Interestingly, a recent review of over 11 studies of aerobic exercise programs for healthy older persons also indicated improved cognitive function with fitness improvement. The most consistent effects were seen with thought processing and attention, as well as memory, language and visuospatial skills (6).

So what are we waiting for?
Get out there and start spending some time with your partner frolicking in the hay!

Yet, if you or your partner is not physically able to have sex, think of some creative and romantic ways to be intimate. One idea: pack up a picnic lunch and go for a long stroll on the beach or in the mountains. Hold hands, enjoy the view and the connection with your partner— knowing that you’re helping your hearts, your brains and raising spirits!

Citations:

1. Salthouse, T.A. Memory aging from 18-80. Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2003; 17: 162-167.

2. Plassman, BL et al. Prevalence of dementia in the United States; the aging, demographics and memory study. Neuroepidemiology, 2007; 29: 125-132.

3. Petersen, R. et al. The Mayo Clinical Study of Aging: Incidence of Mild Cognitive Impairment. Alzheimers Dement 2008; 4: T130.

4. Yaffe,K et al. A prospective study of physical activity and cognitive decline in elderly women: women who walk. Arch Intern Med. 2001; 161: 1703-1708.

5. Abbott, RD et al. Walking and Dementiain physically capable elderly men. JAMA. 2004; 292:1447-1453.

Angevaren M, et al. Physical activity and enhanced fitness to improve cognitive function in older people without known cognitive impairment. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008. P. CD005381

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