A key to better brain health as you age is strengthening your brain’s neuroplasticity – the capacity of the brain’s neurons to reorganize themselves and form new networks. This process maintains your ability to learn and remember new knowledge.
If you want to reap the most benefits from keeping your brain neuroplastic and able to cope with the ever-changing world, I’ve got a way to keep those neurons on top of their game, and it doesn’t involve changing your diet or taking a supplement.
I’m talking about a hobby that’s popular with kids and adults alike. Aficionados of this hobby will even tell you it’s fun, rewarding, and can bring life-long enjoyment.
Making Music Makes Memories in More Ways Than One
This brain-boosting technique is learning to play a musical instrument or going back and playing an instrument you learned to play when you were younger.
Recent studies show that when you play music, whether or not you’re banging out complicated Bach fugues on the piano or merely tapping out rhythms on a tambourine or a simple drum, you’re directing your brain’s neurons to reach out and form varied networks that can improve your learning capabilities.
And those benefits penetrate right down to the cellular level.
Research at the University of Helsinki in Finland shows that playing music leads to epigenetic effects that improve brain function and cognitive abilities. This study uncovered a wide range of changes in gene function that influence the formation of memories, affect how your muscles function and accelerate neuronal plasticity.1
Playing Music Results in Positive Brain Changes Similar to those of Exercise
Interestingly, these researchers discovered that many of the genetic changes that happen in humans when they learn and play music also occur in birds when they learn how to sing their distinctive songs. The researchers note that “the nature of the songbird neural circuits developed through singing experience resembles (what takes place during) human music training.”
In addition, they found changes that reduced potentially harmful inflammation and other genetic shifts that can improve blood vessel health that are similar to what happens in the body after aerobic exercise.2
Numerous Brain Health and Memory Benefits
Along with this research, scientists around the world have been finding other impressive brain benefits that take place when you play an instrument. For example:
Music lessons can enhance neuroplasticity centered in the brain’s hippocampus, a key memory area. A test in Switzerland shows that musicians do better on certain cognitive tests that are related to the recognition of language and sound patterns. Brain scans indicated this was the result of a more extensive neuronal network in the hippocampus.3
People who have taken music lessons have better verbal skills. A review study by Brazilian researchers shows that people with musical training have a better memory for spoken words. And a musician’s improved verbal memory seems to reflect more skill at memorizing words as well as increased language comprehension.4
Experienced musicians possess more grey matter. Grey matter in the brain is an area that is dense with synapses – the vital connections between neurons that allow them to communicate with each other. A study at Harvard and the University of Jena in Germany found that the brains of professional musicians possessed more grey matter than amateur musicians and amateur musicians had more grey matter than non-musicians.5 That’s important because other studies link having more grey matter in your brain to having a higher IQ.6
Of course, I understand that not everyone is cut out to be a musician. But you don’t have to be very good at it to benefit from making music. For example, a study in Canada shows that making rhythmic sounds by banging a mallet on a “singing” bowl can produce significant brain benefits.7 (Just don’t do it around my house.) And research in Spain shows that learning some simple, rhythmic dance steps can keep your thinking processes more dependable as you get older.8
Involvement in music is priceless for your brain’s well-being. It’s a good thing that in today’s world, music and music instruction is available on the internet. This makes it easier than ever before to find a type of music appealing to your taste and appropriate for your abilities.