The Rhythm of the Drums

The last element in our chef salad of movement is music. We all know music is the universal language, but did you ever think it would be like the dressing on the salad that enhances the flavor of all the ingredients making them taste even better? It is, and the research proves it. You just thought listening to Dave Brubeck while on the bike was a way to zone out, but it is actually increasing the size of your hippocampus and developing new neural pathways.

Music, when combined with aerobic exercise, causes out brain to grow in comparison to aerobic exercise done without music. Researchers in Japan found that movement and music have a different effect on the nerve cells in our hippocampus; while movement (exercise of all kinds) created new nerve cells, those cells only survived and became permanently a part of the neuro-landscape when music was added to the mix. The results? Music is looking like a great way to stave off age-related cognitive decline. I will take my magnifying glass to music and the brain in future posts. But for now, let’s look closer at other benefits of tap dancing to the Pointer Sisters.

The winning pair of movement and music shows impressive improvement in our ability to process and understand things we see. This duo also helps us remember where these things are in space and in relation to where we are. Music is a natural to mix with exercise, like baked potatoes and sour cream. Music fires up a bushel basket of different regions of our brains all at once—areas relating to attention, the processing and storing words and language and emotions, memory, and motor functions. And, it does this bilaterally, or on both sides of our brain equally, making it a whole-brain workout second only to playing an instrument.

Related to this, the use of music therapy is recommended for cognitive decline in older adults; it raises their cognitive function, and music is also recommended, and has been shown to improve the gait and stride length in folks with Parkinson’s.

Is there a certain type of music which proves more beneficial for our brains than others? I hesitate to answer yes, however, studies have shown that the most beneficial music for our brains is classical music, instrumental music (jazz, for example), and Gregorian chant. The reasons for these will keep until our discussion on music, but the science isn’t great for the effects of rock n’ roll on our brain health. I have switched to listening to more classical and jazz, but sometimes there is nothing like a little Bob Seger to get my legs moving after a long and tiring day. Then, I switch to Mozart.

Music and exercise together provide us with the most thorough mind/body workout we know of at this moment in time, and if that aerobic exercise is non-repetitive dancing, well, then you truly have it all going for you.

Until next time…be vibrant!