Sex could be helpful even on a cellular level. Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Sexual intimacy in women has been linked with longer telomeres — a trait associated with slower cellular aging, improved overall health, and even increased lifespan. The finding adds to a growing body of research on the importance of regular sexual activity to our mental, emotional, and now physical health.

The study, published online in Psychoneuroendocrinology, found that women who reported having sex at least once a week often displayed longer telomeres, the protective tips to our DNA that shorten with age, Psy Postreported. What’s more, this increased telomere length was not associated with relationship satisfaction, daily support or conflict, or perceived stress in the relationship. Significant telomere length was observed in women who reported weekly sexual intimacy, regardless of other relationship circumstances. This finding could have important applications, as increased telomere length is associated with increased health and longer life.

“Although normal life-course processes, such as aging and cellular replication, shorten telomeres, sustained psychosocial stress accelerates this process,” explained lead researcher Tomás Cabeza de Baca, PsyPostreported. “Over time, shortened telomeres may contribute to chronic degenerative diseases and premature mortality.”

What’s A Telomere?

According to the National Institute of Health, DNA is the set of hereditary material found in humans that not only determines how we should look, but also controls other traits such as intelligence and susceptibility to certain diseases. The average human has billions of genes, but these genes twist together into structures called chromosomes. Each cell only has 23 pairs of chromosomes. Telomeres are the caps of repetitive DNA found at the end of chromosomes that help to protect our precious chromosomes from deteriorating during cell division.

While chromosomal deterioration is inevitable, as cells divide countless times during a lifetime, the telomeres keep this damage minimal. However, as cells divide continuously throughout a lifetime, telomeres continue to shorten to the point where they eventually die out and the chromosome can no longer divide and create new stem cells, New Scientist reported. In fact, a 2014 analysis of the blood of Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper, the once “oldest woman alive,” revealed that her telomeres were nearly completely depleted, suggesting that her body no longer had the capacity to create new cells, New Scientist reported.

What This Means

Telomeres do not just shorten with old age; poor health habits, such as destructive drinking, as well as traumatic life events, such as childhood abuse, can also shorten telomeres. However, healthy lifestyles, particularly active lifestyles, can actually lengthen these important cellular structures.

As the researchers explain, this study is just observational, based on only 129 women, and does not definitively prove anything. It may simply be that women with longer telomeres tend to have more sex, not the other way around. However, the results do suggest that there may be a link between our aging process and sexual activity.

“There are many physiological and psychosocial mechanisms that may mediate the sex-telomere relationship,” Baca told PsyPost. “For instance, we proposed that sexual intimacy may dampen the effects of stress by down-regulating stress response systems and up-regulating immune response. Over time, these patterns of stress function should result in longer telomere length.”

The team admitted there were several caveats to their research, such as they only studied mothers who were in long-term relationships. Either way, the team hope to further investigate these findings and hopefully determine once and for all if an active sex life really does keep you young and healthy.

Source: Cabeza de Baca T, Epel ES, Robles TF, et al. Sexual intimacy in couples is associated with longer telomere length. Psychoneuroendocrinology . 2017

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