A large body of research shows the positive effects exercise has on the maintenance of physical and mental health. Now, new research suggests that involvement with music, dance, painting, drama and other arts may have the same effects as exercise on keeping our minds sharp as we age. The journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience recently published findings that older adults (ages 59-80) who learned to play an instrument in their youth and played for at least 10 years scored significantly higher on tests of memory and cognitive ability than their non-musician counterparts.
If you didn’t grow up playing an instrument, you need not fear. Evidence suggests that there seems to be no age limit where the positive effects of engagement with the arts fail. The brain continues to change as we use it throughout our lives; the concept of “use it or lose it” refers to the need to keep our minds engaged or risk losing mental agility and this principle is relevant at all ages.
Evidence implies that arts that combine physical and mental agility have the strongest effects since multiple brain systems are involved. Strikingly, neuroscientist at New York’s Albert Einstein Medical Center Peter Davies explains that research shows that participation in dance programs can reduce the onset of dementia by up to 75%, more than any drug currently on the market or in development. Dancer Phyllis Sues attributes her exceptional mental and physical health at 89 to the tango.
In addition to the cognitive benefits, involvement in the arts fosters social connections, further enhancing quality of life. So grab that paintbrush or throw on those dancing shoes and start aging well!