How Music and Exercise Benefit Your Brain
How to keep your brain healthy and engaged
as you age, with resources to help you improve
your memory and increase cognitive ability.
A few years ago I watched a PBS presentation by Dr. Daniel G Amen, author of Memory Rescue: Supercharge Your Brain, Reverse Memory Loss, and Remember What Matters Most. After reading his book, I learned I was on the right track by losing a considerable amount of weight, eating healthier, and focusing on getting more exercise.
The Power of Music on the Brain
“If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.” – HopkinsMedicine.org
One thing Dr. Amen said that I believed at once was how beneficial the right kind of music is to the brain. Music has been an important part of my life since my grade school days. Throughout my married life, I worked in my office with Harry’s big band records playing in the background. In the evening when we weren’t watching TV, we switched to quiet classical or “easy listening” CDs. After Harry died, I digitized hundreds of favorite albums to listen to while in my office. I believe music lowers my stress and keeps my blood pressure under control. What I know for sure is that life without some music every day would be devastating to my soul.
According to Dr. Amen, listening to classical music for just twelve minutes a day will improve one’s attention, processing speed, and memory. Even more beneficial to the brain and one’s memory than listening to music is learning to play a musical instrument of any kind. Specifically, what music does to the brain is increase the size of its hippocampus, which is thought to be the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system.
According to this page on Wikipedia, the hippocampus “plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, and in spatial memory that enables navigation.”
“If you want to do something good for your brain, turn on your music player and sing along to a few songs. Better yet, sing and dance at the same time. It sounds like a simple exercise, but, really, it's a full brain workout.” –Rachel Nania (from a new brain report on AARP)
How Exercise Benefits the Brain
“… exercising is one of the most transformative things you can do to improve cognitive abilities, such as learning, thinking, memory, focus and reasoning—all of which can help you become smarter and live longer.” –from article on CNBC.com, “A neuroscientist shares the 4 brain-changing benefits of exercise”
My research indicates that anything we do to improve the overall health of our brain will help our cognitive ability and memory, so I do what I can, given my age and physical limitations. This includes walking, going up and down stairs every day, doing a variety of bed and chair exercises, and riding my old exercise bike.
An article on the Harvard Health blog on how exercise changes the brain to improve memory states, “The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells. Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.”
The above mention of stress found me searching for “can stress impair one’s cognitive ability?” On the National Center for Biotechnology Information website, I found a report titled “The Effects of Stress on Cognitive Aging, Physiology and Emotion,” which states: “Over the long-term, chronic life stress has been consistently associated with poorer cognitive function, accelerated cognitive decline, and increased incidence of dementia.”
Note: You may benefit from a subscription to one or more of the free Harvard Health Newsletters and the magazine discussed below.
Brain Health and Memory
Much attention is given today to keeping one’s brain healthy and improving memory. I’ve learned much from a free subscription to print issues of Brain & Life magazine. The advice in “Lessons in Longevity” in the Dec.-Jan. 2023 issue concluded with a sidebar on “Six Ways to Stay Healthier into Old Age,” which are: (1) Keep moving; (2) Engage your mind; (3) Eat more whole foods; (4) Be a social butterfly; (5) Get plenty of restful sleep; (6) Find ways to reduce stress.
I’m doing okay on points 1–3, but I never was nor ever will be a “social butterfly.” I do, however, actively engage with family and friends and am involved in church community groups. As for sleep, throughout my life, I’ve rarely gotten more than six hours of sleep a night, yet I’m never sleepy during the day. I figure if I wake up and feel ready to go, I’ve slept long enough.
And stress? I’m getting to be a master at finding ways to eliminate stressful things in my older age, which my blood pressure readings confirm. Given all the stress I’ve had in past decades of my life as a self-employed individual and how little physical exercise I got in those years, it’s a wonder to me that I have good cognitive ability now. I believe decades of writing, publishing my own books, and building and maintaining my websites have challenged my brain and made all the difference.
Regardless of your age or physical limitations, it’s never too late to start taking better care of your mind and body. Specific things you can do are discussed in this excellent article, “How to Improve Cognitive Function: 6 Exercises & Tests.”
I hope my research on the above topics has given you a new and encouraging perspective on how to keep your brain young and healthy throughout your life. Click here for links to three related articles I’ve written: The Aging Brain, The Brain Connection between Writing and Remembering, and How to Enrich and Empower Your Brain as You Age.
First published as a Brabec Bulletin on March, 2, 2023.
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