How Playing A Musical Instrument Can Keep You More Alert As You Get Older

Keep on practicing.

Music is a beautiful thing. It has the power to bring people together, convey important meaning, and make life a little less boring with each and every note. But did you know it could also make you more alert, even as you age?

A new study from the University of Montreal, published in the journal Brain and Cognition, compared the reaction times of 16 musicians (with at least seven years' experience playing an instrument) and 19 non-musicians. The participants were placed in a quiet room and told to click a mouse when they felt a vibration from a small box, heard a sound from a white noise machine, or experienced both at once. These stimulations happened 180 times each, and the results were fascinating.



Mariana Vusiatytska / Unsplash
Mariana Vusiatytska / Unsplash

The study's findings showed "significantly faster reaction times with musicians for auditory, tactile and audio-tactile stimulations."

"These results suggest for the first time that long-term musical training reduces simple non-musical auditory, tactile and multisensory reaction times," lead researcher Simon Landry concludes in the study, co-authored with his thesis advisor François Champoux.

As Landry explained to the Huffington Post, a musician's use of multiple senses while playing an instrument strengthens sensory neural pathways. "Additionally, using the senses in synchronicity for long periods of time ― musicians practice for years ― enhances how they work together. All this would lead to the faster multisensory reaction time."

This could be good news for musicians as they get older, when reaction times typically slow down. 

And while there's no guarantee that picking up an instrument for the first time later in life will have cognitive benefits, according to Landry, it certainly can't hurt to try. He told Real Simple, "Playing an instrument will instill discipline, bring moments of focus, build new connections in the brain, and hopefully provide a bit of joy. Even if it doesn't end up increasing reaction times, those are all important benefits for a balanced lifestyle."

That's even more reason to keep up your musical resolutions this year.

Cover image: Mariana Vusiatytska / Unsplash

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