Childhood music lessons can deliver brain-boosting dividends decades later, even for those who no longer actively play an instrument, according to a study in the journal Neuropsychology. Past research has examined the cognitive benefits of musical activity by children, but this is the first study to examine whether those benefits can extend across a lifetime.
"Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging," said lead researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy. "Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older."
The study included individuals with no musical training; with one to nine years of musical study; or with at least 10 years of musical training. The high-level musicians who had studied the longest performed the best on the cognitive tests, followed by the low-level musicians and non-musicians, revealing a trend relating to years of musical practice.
Interestingly, half of the high-level musicians still played an instrument at the time of the study, but they didn't perform better on the cognitive tests than the other advanced musicians who had stopped playing years earlier. This suggests that the duration of musical study was more important than whether musicians continued playing.
"We believe that both the years of musical participation and the age of acquisition are critical," Hanna-Pladdy says. "There are crucial periods in brain plasticity that enhance learning, which may make it easier to learn a musical instrument before a certain age and thus may have a larger impact on brain development."
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Source: American Psychological Association