Exercising and listening to music can prevent cognitive decline
As we age, cognitive decline is a natural part of the aging process.
However, recent research has shown that exercising and listening to music can alter cognitive decline in healthy seniors by stimulating gray matter production in the brain.
The study, led by the University of Geneva (UNIGE), HES-SO Geneva and EPFL, found that music practice and active listening can prevent working memory decline, promote brain plasticity and increase gray matter volume.
Brain plasticity, or the brain’s ability to remodel itself, changes throughout our lives.
This is demonstrated by changes in brain morphology and connections that occur when we learn new skills or overcome the effects of a stroke.
However, as we age, the brain’s plasticity decreases and the gray matter in which our neurons reside is lost. This is called “brain atrophy” and cognitive decline gradually occurs.
Working memory, a core cognitive function, is one of the cognitive functions that suffer most from cognitive decline.
Working memory is the process by which we briefly retain and manipulate information to achieve a goal, e.g. For example, remembering a phone number long enough to write it down or translate a sentence from a foreign language.
The study, conducted with 132 healthy retirees aged 62 to 78, found that practicing music and active listening prevented a decline in working memory and promoted brain plasticity, which is associated with an increase in gray matter volume connected is.
Participants had never played music before and were randomly assigned to two groups regardless of their motivation for playing an instrument.
One group had piano lessons while the other group had active listening lessons. The lessons lasted one hour and both groups had to do homework for half an hour every day.
After six months, the team found common effects for both interventions.
Neuroimaging showed increases in gray matter in all participants in four brain regions involved in high-level cognitive function, including cerebellar areas involved in working memory.
Their performance increased by 6%, and this result directly correlated with cerebellar plasticity.
The quality of sleep, the number of lessons completed during the intervention and the daily training quantity had a positive effect on the degree of performance improvement.
The researchers also found a difference between the two groups.
In the pianists, gray matter volume in the right primary auditory cortex—a key region for sound processing—remained stable, while it decreased in the active listening group.
In addition, a global brain atrophy pattern was present in all participants. Therefore, the team cannot conclude that musical interventions rejuvenate the brain. They only prevent aging in certain regions.
The results of the study suggest that practicing and listening to music can promote brain plasticity and cognitive reserve, and these playful and accessible interventions should become a key policy priority for healthy aging.
The next step for the team is to assess the potential of these interventions in people with mild cognitive impairment, an intermediate stage between normal aging and dementia.
In summary, the study found that practicing and listening to music can delay cognitive decline and promote brain plasticity in healthy seniors.
Although these interventions do not rejuvenate the brain, they prevent aging in specific regions and offer a fun and accessible way to maintain cognitive function in old age.
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The study was conducted by Clara James et al. carried out published in Neuroimaging: Reports.
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