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Playing a musical instrument is good for brain health in old age – study shows

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Playing a musical instrument or singing can help keep the brain healthy in old age, British researchers suggest.

Exercising and singing music can help maintain good memory and the ability to solve complex tasks, research says. In their report, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, they say music should be considered as part of a lifestyle to maintain the brain.

More than 1,100 people over the age of 40, with an average age of 68, were surveyed. Scientists at the University of Exeter looked at their brain function data as part of a wider study that has been exploring how the mind ages, and why people develop dementia.

They looked at the effects of playing an instrument, singing, reading and listening to music, and musical ability. The researchers compared the cognitive data of those in the study who were involved in music in some way in their lives, and those who never.

Their results showed that people who played musical instruments benefited the most, which may be due to the “higher cognitive demands” of the activity. Just listening to music does not help cognitive health. The perceived benefit of singing may be in part due to the perceived social aspects of being in a choir or group, the researchers say.

“Because we have sensitive brain tests for this study, we can look at individual aspects of brain function, such as short-term memory, long-term memory, and problem solving and how music can affect it,” lead. author Prof Anne Corbett told the BBC.

“This certainly confirms and reinforces to a greater degree what we already know about the benefits of music. “In particular, playing an instrument has a very strong effect, and people who continue to play into old age have an additional benefit,” he said.

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