We’ve all experienced the feeling. You’re in your car with the radio on, maybe driving home from work, when an old song comes on. You are immediately transported back in time to when the song was popular, or when it was most important in your life. This is because music is strongly linked to our individual memories. Connecting the music we listen to with our long-term memory is actually a built-in function of our brains.
Doctors and psychologists have found that this can be extremely helpful for Alzheimer patients in specific, as listening to music can help trigger their memories and help them recall earlier parts of their lives. For these individuals, short-term memory might be compromised, but older memories can be preserved. Listening to music that they have connected with in the past can also connect them in the present to improve their quality of life.
Although listening to personal music favorites can be particularly helpful for individuals with dementia or other brain-damaging diseases, the benefits that go along with listening to personal favorites can be applied to anyone. Here are a few good examples of how music can keep your brain healthy:
- Listening to your favorite music can help calm your brain activity. Music that we connect with and enjoy can be soothing and comforting, especially in times of high stress or pressure. Because of these effects, we are capable of concentrating on the present and recovering our connections to those around us.
- Music develops your verbal and visual skills. Just as children are encouraged to try a musical instrument to stimulate their learning, music education can aid anyone in their visual and communication skills as well. Studies involving musical training in pitch, melody, voice, and rhythm have resulted in higher verbal IQs and improved visual capabilities. By improving your ability to communicate, music lessons like these can keep your brain sophisticated and healthy.
- Ambient music can increase your creativity. Although loud music might not be your best choice, a reasonable level of sound may stimulate your creative juices. While loud music may distract us, and low levels of noise may leave us wanting more, a moderate amount of music is just enough to keep you focused. High levels of noise impair and overwhelm our thinking, and low levels let us choose options that are obvious or apparent. Modest levels of sound work best for us because they help our brains process difficulty, which in turn supports abstract processing. Our creativity levels are heightened because we are working just a little bit harder to understand whatever we are working on. In this struggle, we end up reaching out to more creative options.
- Music improves vascular health. No matter what type of music you choose to listen to, research has found that music helps strengthen your heart by regulating your heartbeat, pulse rate, and blood pressure. Studies show that those who listen to music after cardiac surgery are actually much more relaxed and feel less pain during their recovery. This is because listening to music that you like releases endorphins which strengthen the brain, consequently improving recovery time.
- Music gives your immune system a boost. Listening to uplifting music can actually increase the levels of antibodies within a human body. Research has found that this helps reduce levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. This hormone is known to weaken the immune system and the memory, as well as lower bone density and blood pressure. Music encourages production of the antibody immunoglobulin A, which helps to fight stress hormones.
- Music activates many areas of your brain. Activating several large areas of the brain creates a powerful link between music and memory. A new study shows that listening to music activates the auditory region, as well as the limbic and motor regions of our brains. The auditory region first processes the sound we hear, the motor region processes the rhythm of the music, and finally the limbic region associates emotions with the sounds we hear. And what’s more, it doesn’t matter what type of music you listen to; these areas will always be activated.
- Music enhances exercising. Just as minimal sound isn’t helpful in boosting our creativity, it also doesn’t help us when we are working out. Research has found that pumping up our music can actually muffle our fatigue. When we exercise, our brain begins to realize the body’s tiredness and signals for us to slow down or take a break. However, the music we listen to is also fighting for our attention, and can actually take priority in our brains over the fatigue signals. This helps us to put fatigue on the back burner and continue exercising for longer amounts of time at a stronger pace.
There are so many positive effects of listening to music; it helps in activating many parts of the brain, and an active brain is a healthy one. Music benefits our health, happiness, and our overall well-being. So turn up your radio, plug in your iPod, or blast your boom box and start listening!