Keeping your brain young with music

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By KEVIN WEAKS

People who engage with music, particularly by learning to play an instrument, have better brain function in later life.

If you want to firm up your body, head to the gym. If you want to exercise your brain, listen to music.

There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does. If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.

Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness and memory. Listening to or making music increases blood flow to brain regions that generate and control emotions. The limbic system, which is involved in processing emotions and controlling memory, “lights” up when our ears perceive music.

Engaging in and creating music in some way has been linked to better brain health in later years of life, a new study in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry reveals. Piano playing in particular was strongly associated with improved memory and the ability to solve complex tasks — especially in older age.

“Our study has confirmed that people who engage with music, particularly by learning to play an instrument, have better brain function in later life,” study author Anne Corbett, a professor of dementia research at the U.K.’s University of Exeter, told Newsweek magazine.

LEARN AN INSTRUMENT
Playing instruments is linked with better memory and ability to perform complex tasks, especially playing keyboard instruments. People who continued to play instruments into later life showed the best outcomes, indicating the importance of engaging with music throughout life, the study found.

The analysis revealed that people with greater musical experience and exposure to music across their lives had better cognitive abilities later in life. Additionally, playing later in life strengthened these benefits further.

When 13 older adults took piano lessons, their attention, memory and problem-solving abilities improved, along with their moods and quality of life, notes a report from Johns Hopkins Medicine. You don’t have to become a pro, just take a few lessons.

Reach for familiar music, especially if it stems from the same time period that you are trying to recall. Listening to the Beatles might bring you back to the first moment you laid eyes on your spouse, for instance.

“Playing keyboard instruments showed the strongest effect on both memory and executive function. Brass and woodwind instrument playing also benefited memory, whilst singing was linked with better complex task completion,” Corbett told Newsweek.

Playing and reading music are complex tasks which challenge the brain. Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it.


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