Why is music good for the brain? – Harvard Health Blog

Can music really affect your well-being, your learning, your cognitive functions, your quality of life and even your happiness? A recent survey of music and brain health conducted by the AARP revealed some interesting results on the impact of music on cognitive and emotional well-being:

  • Music listeners had higher scores for mental well-being and slightly lower levels of anxiety and depression compared to the general population.
  • Among survey respondents who currently go to musical performances, 69% rated their brain health “excellent” or “very good”, compared to 58% of those who have been there in the past and 52% of those who have not. have never attended.
  • Of those who said they were often exposed to music as a child, 68% rated their ability to learn new things “excellent” or “very good”, compared to 50% of those who were not exposed to music. music.
  • Active musical engagement, including those over the age of 50, was associated with higher rates of happiness and good cognitive function.
  • Adults without exposure to early music but who are currently participating in some music appreciation have above average mental well-being scores.

Let’s take a closer look at this study

These are pretty impressive results, of course. However, this 20-minute online survey has some limitations. On the one hand, it included 3,185 American adults aged 18 and over; it’s a small number if you extrapolate to 328 million people across the country. For another, it is really a survey of people’s opinions. For example, although people can report their brain health was “excellent”, there was no objective measurement brain health like an MRI, or even a test to measure their cognition.

Finally, even if the ratings were true, the results are only correlations. They don’t prove that, for example, it was exposure to music as a child that led to a better ability to learn new things. It is equally likely that children raised in wealthier households were both more likely to be exposed to music and to receive a good education that made it easy for them to learn new things later in life.

But suppose the results of the AARP survey are indeed true. How can music have such awe-inspiring brain effects? While we don’t know the answers for sure, developments in cognitive neuroscience over the past few years have allowed us to speculate on some possible mechanisms.

Music activates almost the entire brain

Music has been shown to activate some of the brain’s largest and most diverse networks. Of course, music activates the auditory cortex in the temporal lobes near your ears, but that’s just the start. The parts of the brain involved in emotion are not only activated during emotional music, they are also synchronized. Music also activates a variety of memory regions. And, interestingly, music activates the motor system. In fact, it’s been theorized that it’s the activation of the brain’s motor system that allows us to choose the beat of the music before we even start tapping our feet!

Use it or lose it

Okay, music activates pretty much the whole brain. Why is this so important? Well, have you ever heard the phrase “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”? Turns out it’s actually true in the brain. Brain pathways – and even entire networks – are strengthened when in use and weakened when not in use. The reason is that the brain is efficient; it won’t bother to keep a strong brain pathway when it hasn’t been used for many years. The brain will use the neurons in this pathway for something else. These types of changes should be intuitively obvious to you – that’s why it’s more difficult to speak this foreign language if you haven’t used it for 20 years; many of the old pathways have broken down and neurons are being used for other purposes.

Music keeps your brain networks strong

So how does music promote well-being, improve learning, boost cognitive function, improve quality of life, and even induce happiness? The answer is, because music can activate almost any region and network in the brain, it can help maintain a myriad of strong brain pathways and networks, including networks involved in well-being, learning, cognitive functions, quality of life and happiness. In fact, there is only one other situation where you can activate so many brain networks at once, and that is when you are participating in social activities.

Dance the night away

How do you integrate music into your life? It is easy to do. Although the AARP survey found that those who actively listened to music had the most significant brain benefits, even those who mainly listened to background music showed benefits, so you can turn that music on right now. . Music can improve your mood, so put on a happy tune if you’re feeling blue. Uptempo music can give you energy. And if you combine music with aerobic and social activity, you can get the maximum health benefits from it. Take a Zumba class. Do some jazz aerobics. Immerse yourself in the rhythm of rock & roll. Or, better yet, go dancing. (And yes, in the event of a pandemic, you can still benefit from these activities virtually.)

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Jothi Venkat

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