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The surprising health benefits of sex

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By Michael Castleman

From Live Right Live Well 

Years ago, Marvin Gaye's hit, "Sexual Healing," touted the emotional benefits of lovemaking. But research shows sex can improve physical health as well. So what are the health benefits of sex?

Boosts Immune System
Sex is moderate exercise. Since regular moderate exercise is known to boost immune function, researchers at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., wondered if lovemaking might do the same. After asking 112 college students how often they had sex, the scientists analyzed samples of the students' saliva for immunoglobulin A (IgA), a key component of the immune system that helps fight infection. The result: Those who had sex once or twice a week showed significantly higher levels of IgA than those who had sex less often. "Moderately frequent sex enhances immune function and may help prevent illnesses, such as the common cold," concludes lead researcher and professor of psychology Carl Charnetski.

Lowers Blood Pressure

In a study conducted by the University of Tubingen in Germany and the University of the West of Scotland, researchers asked 51 healthy men and women how often they had sex. After the researchers measured the participants' blood pressure, they found that as sexual frequency increased, blood pressure decreased. Another study from the University of the West of Scotland showed the same result.

Reduces Risk of Heart Attack
Many men worry that having sex might trigger a heart attack. British researchers at the University of Bristol followed 914 men for up to 20 years and found the opposite. "Middle-aged men should be heartened to know that frequent sexual intercourse … [offers] some protection from fatal coronary events," concludes lead researcher Shah Ebrahim.

Lowers Risk of Prostate Cancer
National Cancer Institute researchers tracked 29,342 men and found that the more often the men ejaculated, the lower their risk of prostate cancer. Those who reported 21 or more ejaculations a month during their 20s were 33 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer later in life than those who reported only seven ejaculations per month.

Relieves Pain
Sex helps relieve pain in two ways: First, it's an enjoyable distraction that helps people focus less on their pain. Second, as a form of gentle exercise, sex releases endorphins, the body's own pain-relieving compounds. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation recommends regular sex to help manage the pain of osteoarthritis, one of the nation's most prevalent causes of chronic pain.

Deepens Relaxation

Meditative relaxation has been shown to help treat an enormous number of physical ailments, including pain problems, asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and arthritis. What does this have to do with sex? Sex-related deep-breathing and orgasms are deeply relaxing. So is the whole-body sensual massage that is a part of good sex. In fact, the deep relaxation obtained through sex is very similar to the physiologic relaxation that results from meditation, yoga, tai chi and other stress-management regimens, says Marty Klein, a certified sex therapist, licensed marriage and family therapist, and nationally recognized sex educator based in Palo Alto, Calif. As a result, regular sex with a loving partner offers health and relaxation benefits that are similar to those of massage and other relaxation techniques, he concludes.

Improves Longevity

Immune enhancement, deep relaxation, lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart attack and prostate cancer are all associated with longer life. Does this mean regular sex can extend life? Yes! At least that's what British scientists at the University of Bristol concluded from a study of some 900 middle-aged men with no significant differences in age, weight, blood pressure or history of smoking or heart disease. The only real difference was how often the men had sex -- and those who had sex twice a week had half the death rate of those who had sex once a month or less. The researchers' conclusion: Sex helps prevent death in middle-aged men.

Of course, no one makes love simply to improve health. But the health benefits of sex are an undeniable bonus. And if you like making love to music, play "Sexual Healing." It's a catchy tune -- and it's true!

Michael Castleman has been a sex educator and sex counselor since 1973. He is the publisher of greatsexafter40.com and the author of Sexual Solutions: For Men and the Women Who Love Them and Great Sex: A Man's Guide to the Secrets of Whole-Body Sensuality.

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