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A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.
- A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
- The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
- The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Study links sexual activity to higher cognitive function in old age<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM2NTkxOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTY3Nzk3M30.IsAFwfT6eY3zB7MhnRBj_Kdf4OPVW3wZmL0VX7CW3Xk/img.jpg?width=980" id="9e3a9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fd1267b47b651effb578ccfb29aada64" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="concept of elderly brain cognitive function healthy brain" />
The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men and a significant association between sexual activity in word recall in women.
Image by Jirsak on Shutterstock<p>Cognitive function has been associated with various physical, psychological, and emotional patterns in older adults - from <a href="https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad110377" target="_blank">lifestyle</a> to <a href="https://academic.oup.com/ageing/article-abstract/37/6/685/40745" target="_blank">quality of life</a>, loneliness, and <a href="https://n.neurology.org/content/59/3/364.short" target="_blank">mood changes</a> as well as <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/1471-2458-14-510" target="_blank">physical activity</a> levels.</p><p><a href="https://academic.oup.com/ageing/article/45/2/313/2195326" target="_blank">A 2016 joint study</a> by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher/better cognitive abilities in older age.</p><p>This longitudinal study used a newly available wave of data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to explore the connections between sexual activity in the older population (50+) with cognitive function. </p><p>The study consisted of 6,833 participants between the ages of 50-89 years old. </p><p><strong>Two different cognitive function tests were analyzed: </strong></p><ul><li>Number sequencing, which broadly relates to the brain's executive functions.</li><li>Word recall, which relates to the brain's memory functions.</li></ul><p>The results of these tests were then adjusted to account for each person's gender, age, education level, wealth, physical activity, and mental health. The reason for this is that the researchers noticed there are often biases in other studies that examine the links between sexual activity and overall health.</p><p>For example, in this scenario, without taking those things into account, healthy older Italian men with a continued interest in sex would score higher on these tests. Women, who are more likely to become widowed and lose their sexual partner, would score lower. </p><p><strong>The results...</strong></p><p>While studying the impact of sexual activity on overall health, there are not many studies that focus on the link between sexual activity and cognitive function, and no other study that focuses on sexual activity and cognitive function in older adults. </p><p>The results of this one-of-a-kind study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted. </p><p>You can see the breakdown of this information <a href="https://academic.oup.com/view-large/35418872" target="_blank">here</a>. </p>
Why were the results for males and females so different?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM2NTkyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxODA1OTMwMX0.HkKUez-IPp81XFBYgiaXsb1uKlZieq1ePU95wm4roKI/img.jpg?width=980" id="691df" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="42ae93bafe6d56bbc095ad17d4d9f06a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="old women drawing concept of cognitive ability in older women" />
One of the highlights of this study was exploring the differences sexual activity has in cognitive function in older males and older females.
Photo by Gligatron on Shutterstock<p>Exploring the differences when it comes to the improved cognitive ability between the older males and the older females in this study was one of the highlights of the research.</p><p><strong>Testosterone versus oxytocin</strong></p><p>Testosterone, which is the male sex hormone, reacts very differently to the brain than oxytocin, which is released in females during sexual activity. </p><p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-testosterone" target="_blank">Testosterone</a> plays a key role in many different areas such as muscle mass, facial and pubic hair development, and mood changes. It also impacts your sex drive and your verbal memory and thinking ability. </p><p>Testosterone belongs to a class of male hormones, and although the ovaries of a woman do produce <a href="https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/normal-testosterone-and-estrogen-levels-in-women#1" target="_blank">minimal amounts of testosterone</a>, it's not enough to compare the impacts on the male and female bodies.</p><p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/love-hormone#biologicalsex-and-oxytocin" target="_blank">Oxytocin</a>, on the other hand, is produced in the male and female bodies <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9361803/" target="_blank">quite similarly</a>, but ultimately the hormone reacts differently in the female body, triggering the portion of the brain responsible for emotion, motivation, and reward. </p><p>These differences in testosterone and oxytocin may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age. </p><p><strong>Women's ability for memory recall remains a mystery…</strong></p><p>Another study, this time <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9421566/" target="_blank">back in 1997</a>, looked at the relationship between gender and episodic memory. The results of this study proved that women have a higher level of performance on episodic memory tasks (for example, <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10101879/" target="_blank">recalling childhood memories</a>) than men. The reason for this was not further explored in this study and has remained something of a mystery, even now. </p><p><strong>The female brain deteriorates during menopause.</strong></p><p>Women very commonly struggle with memory-related problems during and post-menopause. This could be the reason why the original study proved older men had a higher cognitive ability in number sequencing than older women. </p><p>Along with menopause-related cognitive decline, women are also at a <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161109112447.htm" target="_blank">higher risk for memory impairment</a> and dementia compared to men. </p><p>Lead researcher of the original 2016 study, Dr. Hayley Wright, from Coventry University, explains:</p><p><em>"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." </em></p>
Researchers at UT Southwestern noted a 47 percent increase in blood flow to regions associated with memory.
- Researchers at UT Southwestern observed a stark improvement in memory after cardiovascular exercise.
- The year-long study included 30 seniors who all had some form of memory impairment.
- The group of seniors that only stretched for a year did not fair as well in memory tests.
Lithuania's Austra Reinberga (C) runs next to New Zealand's Marcia Petley (L) and Columbia's Maria Pastora Londono (R) during the women's 100m final for athletes between 85 and 89 years old, during the World Masters Athletics Championships on August 7, 2015 in Lyon, southeastern France.
Photo: Philippe Desmazes/AFP via Getty Images<p>As lead author of the study, Binu Thomas, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Center for BrainHealth at UT Southwestern Medical Center, <a href="https://newatlas.com/health-wellbeing/aerobic-exercise-alzheimers-brain-blood-flow-dementia/" target="_blank">says</a>, aerobic exercise works in your favor at any age. Noting the study was only a small group, he continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Cerebral blood flow is a part of the puzzle, and we need to continue piecing it together. But we've seen enough data to know that starting a fitness program can have lifelong benefits for our brains as well as our hearts."</p><p>This study follows a wealth of data detailing the impact of exercise on cognition. A <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/exercise-mental-health" target="_self">University of Vermont study</a> suggests mental health patients consider exercise before starting prescription medication, going so far as to recommend medical centers build gyms in a new therapeutic model. </p><p>A prior <a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/study-confirms-lifting-weights-reduces-depression" target="_self">review of 33 studies</a> advocated weightlifting as an important protocol for curbing depression. Another <a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/exercise-shown-to-alleviate-symptoms-of-depression-and-anxiety-disorder" target="_self">study</a> based in Amsterdam called exercise an ideal intervention for treating anxiety disorders and depression. Oxford and Yale researchers <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/fitness-depression" target="_self">discovered the same</a>.</p><p>In 2013, the RAND Corporation <a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/does-lack-of-exercise-lead-to-dementia" target="_self">estimated</a> that diseases of dementia cost America between $157 billion to $215 billion annually. Previous research specifically cites cardiovascular exercise as key for fighting dementia, including this <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/108/7/3017?sid=68cb95f7-9654-4717-a9c5-14a0d7338c70" target="_blank">2010 study</a> and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5538117/" target="_blank">this study</a> from 2017. In 2013, epidemiologist Bryan James <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/04/15/176920391/how-exercise-and-other-activities-beat-back-dementia" target="_blank">told NPR</a> that aging does not have to result in memory loss. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It's simply not pre-destined for all human beings. Lots of people live into their 90s and even 100s with no symptoms of dementia."</p><p>While Thomas speculates that a drug could target blood flow in the regions cited in his study, perhaps we should consider what's kept us healthy for hundreds of thousands of years: regular movement. Your body is in the shape you train for, so best to train it well. Your brain will thank you. </p><p>----</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
The distracting nature of modern media is having a terrible effect on what we learn.
- Modern media isn't necessarily harming our memory systems though it is impacting what we remember.
- We used to retain reams of valuable information; now we're more likely to memorize URLs and passwords.
- The process of deep learning is being sacrificed to our addiction to novelty.
How Memory Works<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="83ef6409824d1c0e35e9b52a5af58304"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/kwo2WxM87-g?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Those are the neurological mechanics, in which repetition is the key to forming lasting memories. Before the advent of the internet, remembering played a much more prevalent role in our lives. </p><p>For millennia, humans held the stories of their tribe in their minds. Oral storytellers memorized hundreds of thousands of lines of verse, such as the <em>Mahābhārata</em>. As writing became more widespread and more people learned how to read, we had to remember less. Imams recite the Quran; most Muslims turn the pages. They don't need to memorize what's in their pocket.</p><p>Remembering takes time. As Horvath points out, we memorize better in short bursts. Sleeping between bouts of studying helps commit information to memory. In a data-drenched society that <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/insomnia-brain-health" target="_blank">barely sleeps</a>, how much we actually remember is a contentious issue. </p><p>Part of the problem is the exploitation of attentional capacities. Coining the term "deep work," computer science professor Cal Newport <a href="https://www.calnewport.com/books/deep-work/" target="_blank">writes</a> that switching from task to task trains your mind to "never tolerate an absence of novelty." A day of Web surfing is never as rewarding as accomplishing a pre-made list of tasks. You'll always feel drained and scattered mindlessly clicking around. How much information you retain while surfing is negligible. </p><p>As with ancient Indians memorizing <em>shloka</em> through recitation and repetition, the writer Nicholas Carr <a href="http://www.nicholascarr.com/?page_id=18" target="_blank">points to</a> the discovery of the generation effect by cognitive psychologists in the 1970s. "People remember words much better when they actively recall them—when they <em>generate</em> them—than when they read them from a page." Retaining information is akin to physical exertion. Your muscles only get stronger when you use them. </p><p>How often do we stop and think deeply about a question before turning to Google? Convenience has a price. Horvath doesn't strike an apocalyptic tone, though he does point out we're more likely to memorize usernames and URLs than epic literature. Or any literature at all. </p>
It may be easiest when you're young, but the proven benefits of learning a new language at any age cannot be ignored.
- We have two main memory systems that influence learning: declarative memory, which consists of facts that can be consciously recalled, and procedural memory, which consists of different "procedures" we learn that are more instinctual to recall.
- Young children are able to access their procedural memory systems without the distraction of a declarative memory system. That means they can pick up grammar and language faster.
- There are many ways you can make it easier to learn a second or third language as an adult, and there are many benefits to doing so.
Declarative memory versus procedural memory<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI3MjAxMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTA0NTUyM30.BVSxs2ZJKbi7uI-TICDCuVghQoIjQtcKIWeohOV8lYE/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C52%2C0%2C52&height=700" id="71a03" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="81df1517b4d5f8435e28701c24db73e5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="a child and a woman sitting on a bench reading concept of learning" />
Why is it seemingly easier for children to learn languages?
Image by bokan on Shutterstock<p><strong>We have two main memory systems that influence how we learn things:</strong></p><ol><li>Declarative memory system</li><li>Procedural memory system </li></ol><p><strong><a href="https://www.livescience.com/43153-declarative-memory.html" target="_blank">Declarative memory</a></strong>, also referred to as explicit memory, consists of facts and events that can be consciously recalled. Declarative memory is made of episodic memories and semantic memories. </p><p>For example: The name of your favorite pet from childhood or the name of a teacher who was kind to you are episodic memories. They are based on specific events (or episodes) in your life that are a part of your own unique history. </p><p>Semantic memories come from the distinct ability to recall certain facts and concepts that are often referred to as common knowledge, for example, understanding the difference between a cat and dog or being able to recall how to use a telephone. </p><p><a href="https://www.livescience.com/43595-procedural-memory.html" target="_blank"><strong>Procedural memory</strong></a> is a part of our long-term memory and is responsible for how we learn to do things (motor skills). Procedural memory is about how we perform different "procedures," as the name suggests. </p><p>Examples of this could be how to ride a bike, climbing stairs, or how to play an instrument. </p><p>The difference between the two is, for example, that procedural memory will allow you to ride a bike with little effort even if you haven't done so in years, while declarative memory will allow you to find the route from the corner store back to your home. </p><p><strong>Declarative memory takes longer to form, making it easier to access unchallenged procedural memory as young children. </strong></p><p>We use procedural memory (which develops early in life) to learn complex things such as grammar or language. Declarative memory, on the other hand, is a system that builds over a number of years and takes a longer time to develop. </p><p>Young children are able to access their procedural memory systems without the distraction of a declarative memory system, which makes learning a language a faster process. </p>
How can I make it easier to learn a second language as an adult?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI3MjAwNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI5MjM1OH0._y9yAsdlIpKZlm1XhVeaez4O7D84TWfDhP6t0E7U_qE/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=304%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="3f2db" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="03262df9c88a33b75a4d7fe57d96ed13" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="pink note on blue background concept of using color coded notes during study" />
Using color coded notes during your study can improve your learning.
Photo by Nicole Lienemann on Shutterstock<p><strong>You may actually be trying too hard.</strong></p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0101806" target="_blank">According to a 2014 study</a>, adults who struggle to learn new languages may be trying too hard. The research proved that concentrating and trying to learn helped adults master basic vocabulary in a foreign language, but in the end it hindered their ability to learn the grammar of the new language. </p><p>"Still, this does not mean aspiring bilinguals should necessarily scale back how much effort they put into learning," researchers on the project <a href="https://www.livescience.com/46938-why-adults-struggle-with-new-languages.html" target="_blank">explained</a>. </p><p>While more research needs to be done into easier and more effective ways for adults to learn languages, one of the things you can do to improve how much you're learning might be to add a relaxing activity to your educational sessions. </p><p><strong>Studies show coloring or drawing can lead to more intense focus and relaxation, which can make learning a second language much easier.</strong> </p><p>Allowing your brain to participate in a low-stress activity such as coloring while you listen to a language lesson online may make it easier to retain knowledge about the language. Coloring has been shown to calm the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is related to fear/stress response. It also has been shown to stimulate the part of the brain that is responsible for creativity and logic. </p><p>Color therapy has shown benefits for helping those who struggle with anxiety. Introducing this activity into your learning process can help you retain more information, according to practical strategy and leadership expert <a href="https://neenjames.com/3-ways-to-increase-focus-with-adult-coloring/" target="_blank">Neen James</a>.</p><p><strong>Allow your mind to wander and come back to task—don't force it.</strong></p><p>According to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/12824-distract-interruptions-boost-performance-concentration.html" target="_blank">LiveScience</a>, attempting a task over and over again can quite literally be mind-numbing and very counterproductive. Instead, you may find it more helpful to take breaks or distract yourself to pay attention to something else. </p><p>The article suggests that brief interruptions can actually keep you functioning at higher levels. </p><p><strong>Organizing your notes (and your studies) with colors can help you retain more information. </strong></p><p>The benefits of organizing your work cannot be overstated when it comes to productivity and learning. According to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563205000105?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">this 2006 study</a> published in Computers in Human Behavior, color-coding your notes helps you process new information easier as you're learning it. </p><p>According to <a href="https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/handle/1808/10026" target="_blank">this 2009 paper</a>, color coding new words from a language you don't understand can help you learn those words easier and faster. As an added resource, Effectiviology has some really helpful information on how to best <a href="https://effectiviology.com/color-coding-techniques-vocabulary-learning/" target="_blank">color-code your learning</a>. </p><p><strong>Learning a new language at any age is good for you—keep trying!</strong></p><p>According to a <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ana.24158" target="_blank">more recent study</a> led by Edinburgh's School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences lecturer Dr. Thomas Bak, learning a language at any age is beneficial. The research from this study suggests that bilingualism improves later-life cognition and can delay the onset of dementia in some cases.</p>