Playing a musical instrument has obvious rewards: the sense of fun and enjoyment, the ability to express feelings in different ways, and the satisfaction experienced as proficiency improves, but could it actually be making you smarter?
Well, scientists working on PROTECT, an online study open to people aged 40 and over, reviewed data from more than a thousand adults to see the effect of playing a musical instrument or singing on brain health, and what they found was that, apart from any benefits it has for emotional wellbeing, it actually improved the memory and cognitive speed of the 40-and-ups.
Over 25,000 people have signed up for the PROTECT study, which has been running for 10 years, and in order to come up with this exciting finding the team reviewed participants’ musical experience and lifetime exposure to music, alongside results of cognitive testing, to determine whether musicality helps to keep the brain sharp in later life.
The findings show that playing a musical instrument, particularly the piano, is linked to improved memory and the ability to solve complex tasks—known as executive function.
Continuing to play into later life provides even greater benefit. The work suggests that singing was also linked to better brain health, although this may also be due to the social factors of being part of a choir or group.
“A number of studies have looked at the effect of music on brain health. Our PROTECT study has given us a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between cognitive performance and music in a large cohort of older adults,” said Anne Corbett, Professor of Dementia Research at the University of Exeter.
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