Engaging in c, such as playing a musical instrument or singing in a choir, may have numerous benefits for brain health. While it is already known that learning to play an instrument is associated with improved educational attainment, cognition, and intelligence in children, a recent study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry aimed to investigate whether musicality also translates to better cognitive function later in life.
The study involved middle-aged and older individuals who completed a questionnaire regarding their lifetime musical experience. Participants then underwent cognitive tests to assess their memory and executive function, which involves tasks such as planning, self-control, and staying focused. The results revealed that individuals with a musical background demonstrated better memory and executive function compared to those with limited or no musical experience.
Playing a musical instrument requires a good memory, as musicians often play from memory. This connection between musicality and memory likely contributes to the improved cognitive performance observed in individuals with a musical background. Similarly, the need for executive function skills, such as staying focused and planning, while playing an instrument also appears to translate to enhanced cognitive function.
Interestingly, the study found that the type of instrument played and the level of musical proficiency acquired did not significantly impact cognitive performance. However, the key difference was whether individuals currently played an instrument or had only played in the past. Current amateur musicians displayed the highest cognitive performance in the study, suggesting that continued engagement in cognitively stimulating activities, like playing an instrument, leads to ongoing brain health benefits.
While instrumental playing offers brain health benefits, singing also has its advantages. Singing in choirs, for instance, can improve executive function, although it does not seem to impact memory to the same extent as playing an instrument. The reason why singing aids executive function is not fully understood and requires further investigation. However, singing in choirs has a notable social benefit, as engagement in social activities has been linked to improved brain health.
Listening to music, on the other hand, does not seem to provide the same cognitive benefits as actively participating in musical activities. While the famous Mozart effect, based on a study published in 1993, claimed that listening to Mozart improves intelligence, the current study found no association between listening to music and cognitive performance. It appears that cognitive stimulation requires active engagement rather than passive listening.
The study’s findings suggest that playing a musical instrument or singing in a choir can have positive effects on brain health as individuals age. However, it is yet to be determined whether these activities can prevent future cognitive decline or dementia. The study did not provide evidence for this, and it is important to note that the findings may not apply to the general population as most participants were female, well-educated, and well-off.
Despite these limitations, considering the overall cognitive and social benefits of learning an instrument or participating in choral singing, it may be worthwhile to engage in such activities to support cognitive stimulation as individuals age. The positive effects of musical engagement on brain health have been acknowledged for generations, and this study provides further evidence to support this notion.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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