Whether playing an instrument, singing in the shower or merely rocking out to Miley Cyrus in your car, the simple act of loving music — no matter what your ability — improves your mental status throughout your entire life. And at every stage of your life, it impacts you differently and equally powerfully.
Kind of like eating your vegetables, most of us think that the things that are meant to be good for us when we're kids can't possibly feel good, too. When it comes to playing music, though (and arguably a well-prepared kale salad), that's patently untrue. A recent study found that children taking music lessons grew up to have greater executive function in the brain, which is what enables the processing and retention of information. It didn't even require them to be good — people who had been playing an instrument even for two years were better at solving problems and regulating behavior. And even when students quit taking lessons, their ability to spot and correct errors was quicker and more advanced than those who never made it to band class. The mental benefits of even a few years were longterm. So contrary to school boards everywhere, music benefits reach much farther than having a student band at graduation or even putting on talent shows that go slightly better than this:
The benefits of even just listening to music are all the more powerful during adolescence, though. Researcher Jukka Tervo found that music helps teens process and deal with inner emotional trauma. Overall, rock music most benefited adolescents, helping them express inner feelings of anger, rage, grief and longing in controlled and cathartic ways. Additionally, it gave them opportunities to experience closeness, isolation and those early sexual fantasies and feelings. Rock and roll was literally a path to adulthood for young listeners when a path was hardest to come by. Later in life, according to researchers at Stanford, music even helps update and clarify your memories — just so you can remember when you were that angsty teenager.
That could well be linked to one of music's most powerful health effects: fighting Alzheimers and the loss of your mental faculties late in life. Currently, Alzheimer’s Disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and there's no cure — only medication that helps alleviate symptoms. Women are twice as likely to develop the disease as men, and have a one in six chance of developing it after the age of 60 (compared to a one in 11 chance of developing breast cancer). Almost nothing can address it once it sets in. But music helps.
For starters, research suggests that music memory is spared in certain cases of dementia, so there's a natural tendency for patients to remember and enjoy music from their earlier days:
And just like Henry in the clip above, Alzheimer's patients benefit socially from music therapy sessions, exhibiting a 24% increase in socialization after listening to their favorite tunes. When patients start singing, their mental status improves in as quickly as four months. And when these patients sang musical numbers, like songs from The Wizard of Oz, they scored higher on cognitive and drawing tests. When their minds turned on them, music remained. It's something you don't ever really lose — at any point in your life, it's more than just a fun pastime.