Today, I want to talk about nifty reasons music keeps you young and thinking young.
Several years ago, I read about a group of nuns called School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato, Minnesota. Their average age is eighty-five and many of them are in their nineties and several are one hundred and older.
Despite their age they are exceptionally active and alert. When I first read about them and how medical science is studying why they are living to such old ages, I had to laugh a little. I mean, after all, they are nuns; therefore they do not have husbands or children so I think it is safe to say that considering their circumstances, they can add an additional 50+ years to their lives! (children and a husband are great, but they do age us with stress and worry!)
Key to Staying Young: Play an Instrument
Actually, their secret to productive longevity is disciplined, livelong learning! Their activities include: earning college degrees, teaching, reading, doing puzzles, studying politics and current events, working math problems, and…learning to play musical instruments! In short, exercising the brain is a way of life at the nunnery.
And if you want to live a full, rich and productive life—then you need to become active in many different ways. And one way is—learning a musical instrument. “Too late,” you say? It is NEVER too late! John Holt, an educator, and musician wrote a book, Never Too Late—My Musical Life Story, about learning the cello at age 50 and eventually joined a chamber orchestra and string quartet.
Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, and at Princeton University discovered that intense mental exercise could spur the growth of new brain cells throughout our lives. Mental challenges that required spatial relationships and timing (which are required when learning a musical instrument) had the greatest effect in developing new brain cells.
Studying a musical instrument can act as a high-powered stimulus for dendritic growth. Many musicians and composers have kept their brains alert by actively playing and composing music throughout their lives. Stephane Grappelli was a French jazz violinist and was still performing for audiences all over the world at eighty-nine years old.
George Stevens, at the age of ninety-one, was still singing with the oldest non-university men’s singing club in the nation.
My friend Carolyn Allen is almost sixty-nine years old and two years ago she started taking drum lessons. You would think she would be interested in the harp or the violin—but no—she wanted to learn drums. Her reason, “I’m just doing this to have fun and build brain cells.”
I play the piano nearly every morning. I’m not planning on performing at Carnegie Hall anytime soon, but like Carolyn, I’m building brain cells. My own piano teacher, Dorothea Alpert is 105 years old and is still playing the piano. Music has kept her young and alert and still enjoying life.
There are more examples in my book, Good Music Brighter Children including ideas on how to get started. So, what are you waiting for? Find an instrument and start practicing.
Your brain will thank you!