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50+: Live Better, Longer

Can Good Sex Keep You Young?

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But although Peter enjoys his sexual interludes immensely, he also does many other things to remain youthful. He watches his weight and caloric intake very closely and makes sure he stays slim. Over the last decades, he has been involved in strenuous earth and rock-moving activities in his own backyard; and he also splits wood when it is needed. He has exercised steadily and intensely over the years.

So does sex itself really extend our lives or prevent heart attacks? This claim is difficult to prove. Yes, sex and good health are usually linked -- in most of the studies and our observations -- but which one is the chicken and which the egg? Does sex contribute to good health or does good health make regular sex possible?

How Sex May Keep You Young

One of the first longitudinal studies of aging begun at Duke University in the '50s and reported in the December 1982 journal Gerontologist found that the frequency of sexual intercourse (for men) and the enjoyment of sex (for women) predicted longevity. Other studies have found that sexual dissatisfaction was a predictor of the onset of cardiovascular disease. A study published in the November-December 1976 journal Psychosomatic Medicine compared 100 women with heart disease (acute myocardial infarction) with a control group and found sexual frigidity and dissatisfaction among 65% of the coronary patients but only 24% of the controls. In these studies, though correlations were found between the frequency and/or enjoyment of sex and longevity or other outcomes, they do not answer the "chicken and egg" question.

In a long-term study published in book form as Secrets of the Superyoung, David Weeks, MD, head of old age psychology at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in Scotland, found that "the key ingredients for looking younger are staying active ... and maintaining a good sex life." In a study of 3,500 people, ages 30 to 101, Weeks found that "sex helps you look between four and seven years younger," according to impartial ratings of the subjects' photos. Theorizing on his findings, Weeks, a clinical neuropsychologist, attributed this to significant reductions in stress, greater contentment, [and] better sleep.

Michael Roizen's reading of the research and his clinical work have led him to believe that sex keeps us younger because it "decreases stress, relaxes us, enhances intimacy, and helps ... personal relationships." Although no study has yet proven a cause-and-effect relationship between good sex and longevity, there seems to be a beneficial system at work here -- a sort of virtuous cycle of sex and health reinforcing one another.

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