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Playing a musical instrument can make you and your kids smarter

If you're thinking of taking up a musical instrument, the younger the better, or so some research suggests. Learning to play a musical instrument at any age has health benefits but, according to Northwestern University School of Communication, children seem to build up reserve capacity in the brain that stays with them decades later and lowers their risk of dementia, even if they stop playing as an adult. Additionally, understanding rhythm and learning sound patterns has been linked to better reading skills. Young musicians, such as the young pianist Luca Sestak who has been playing since the age of 7, learn sound response differently and may explain why they also have better language and cognitive function.

The longer children play, the greater the benefits but the really good news is that the benefits they build are lasting, even after they stop playing the instrument. A study done on healthy adults ages 60 to 83 at the University of Kansas Medical Center revealed that the musicians who had played an instrument as a child scored better on several memory and cognitive tests than those who had never learned to read music or play an instrument.

“What we see in an older adult who has made music is a biologically younger brain,” said Dr. Nina Kraus, professor of neurobiology at Northwestern University.

Even for those who did not study music as a child, there are benefits of taking up a musical instrument later in life. Suzanne Hanser, chair of the music therapy department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston asserts that music can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate, reduce stress, lessen anxiety and depression and enhance the immune system.

No matter what your age, learning to play a musical instrument can be a creative and relaxing means of expression that also boosts memory and brain power. If taking conventional lessons is not an option, a quick search will reveal many resources such as Piano Marvel and My Twangy Guitar for studying an instrument through videos and the internet. And for those who already know the basics, You Tube can be a wealth of free tips and hints.

If music lessons are not for you, you may be surprised to learn that simply listening to music has health benefits as well. For a smile, check out the funny kitty musicians in the video above.

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