Music and exercise together could enhance your brain performance

A new study has found that people who undertook physical activity while listening to music performed better on some measures of cognition than those who exercised without music.

This Japanese study was published in the Journal PLOSone in April 2014. One hundred and nineteen people aged 65-84 who did not have dementia, and all had fairly similar baseline characteristics (i.e. educational background and memory test scores), participated in the study over the course of a year. Eighty of the participants performed physical exercise for an hour once a week, with professional trainers. Half of this group undertook the exercise program while listening to specific music, while the other half did not. Thirty nine participants were a part of the control group, who did not do any exercise.

Before and after the exercise program, all participants underwent a battery of neurophysiological assessments which included a Mini Mental State Examination and Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test. Those who listened to music while exercising had enhanced visuospatial function, which meant they had a better ability to estimate distance, depth and the general space around them. However both groups who undertook exercise had improved motor function (i.e. hand/eye co-ordination), also confirming that exercise can enhance brain performance.

While the researchers were not able to conclude from this trial why music and with exercise may improve cognition more than exercise alone, they did suggest that music might facilitate the efficacy of physical exercise itself. Specifically, they suggested that music influences movement (for example dancing), and that activating multiple aspects of brain function while exercising: listening; movement and emotion, could be a potential explanation for the improvements in brain performance that where seen.

This hypothesis is backed up by a 2003 American longitudinal study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This study followed 469 people aged over 75 years without dementia and observed their physical (swimming, cycling, dancing) and mental (Sudoku, crosswords, reading) activities over time. The results from this study found that those participants who undertook regular dancing had a 76% reduced chance of dementia because they worked both mental and physical abilities. In comparison, those who read had a 35 % reduced chance of dementia.

While the Japanese study only had a relatively small number of participants, the researchers now plan to undertake larger trials to test some of their hypotheses.

  • Do you enjoy listening to music while you exercise?
  • Do you dance?
  • Do you think music is a key to reducing your risk of dementia?
  • AADRF funded researcher and author of ‘Maintain Your Brain’ (ABC Books; www.maintainyourbrain.com.au) Associate Professor Michael Valenzuela recommends dancing as one of the best body-brain workouts available. But the big questions still remains: Latin, Ballroom or Rock and Roll. Which do you prefer?

Share your thoughts via the commenting feature below and for more ideas on how to improve your brain health visit www.yourbrainmatters.org.au



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