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How Music is Helping Depression and Healthy Aging: Incredible Facts About Music and the Brain

How Music is Helping Depression and Healthy Aging: Incredible Facts About Music and the Brain

Most of us have experienced the joys that music can bring, but what does music do to the brain on a physical level? Today, we’re going to explore how music is helping depression and mood, as well as how the effects of music on the brain can help you as you age.

You’ve probably experienced some of the effects of music on the brain on an emotional level all throughout your life. A favorite song or happy tune can have an unmatched ability to raise your spirits, give you a much needed mood boost, or even have a healing effect when it comes to music helping depression.

When it comes to music and the brain, there’s much more than meets the eye (or ear). The effects of music on the brain have become increasingly well studied in recent years, and the things researchers have learned are worth singing about. Get your headphones ready and throw on an old favorite as we dive into some of the amazing ways music is helping depression, mood, and even memory.

The Physical Effects of Music on the Brain

In any other case, it might be less than thrilling to start out with a look at the science involved; but, when we’re asking how music affects the brain, the answers are nothing short of fascinating. So, what does music do to the brain? Well, think about what’s really happening when you listen to a song. The sound waves travel through the air, vibrate your eardrums, become electrical signals your brain can decode and, like magic, transform into almost any emotion and feeling you can think of. It’s almost poetic, but it’s also thoroughly scientific.

Music activates the pleasure centers of the brain, triggering a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine and other endorphins that induce feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Moreover, it stimulates regions across the entire brain, including the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, cerebellum, and Broca’s area, which control everything from mood, to speech, to memory. Over time, music’s impact on the brain can actually strengthen the physical connection between these and other regions of the brain!

The effects of music on the brain aren’t just observable in the lab, they have been well-documented in terms of real world impact. Music helping depression is an especially valuable benefit for so many, so let’s take a look at how some simple sounds can have an incredible effect.

Music Helping Depression

Music Helping Depression: Happy Tunes For a Happier You

Now that we know how music and the brain are connected, we can examine some of the ways that music is helping depression in the psychological health community, and how you can best utilize it to boost your own mood. Music therapy is a growing field in which the effects of music on the brain are applied in a clinical setting to help those with depression feel relief from their symptoms. In fact, 4 out of 5 studies examined in a meta-analysis found that patients undergoing music therapy experienced a greater improvement in mental state than those undergoing standard care.1

Of course, if you’re experiencing depression, seeking professional help is always the best idea. However, if you’re curious about what methods music therapy implements to help improve mood, here are some ideas:

  • Listening to Music a New Way: You may find that simply listening to music helps you experience the benefits of music on the brain. But, if you want to get more out of it, try the therapeutic technique of pairing music with meditative practices like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Learning to Play an Instrument: One of the best ways to strengthen the link between music and the brain is by playing some of your own! You don’t have to be the next Chopin; an inexpensive guitar or drum are fantastic options, and learning to play makes for an incredibly rewarding experience at any age. Even something as basic as drumming along on a table can help increase your positive brain activity.
  • Dancing or Singing Along: As with learning an instrument, engaging with music firsthand by singing or even dancing further strengthens that mind-music connection, and is a method often chosen by therapists using music to help with depression.

Music helping depression and boosting mood are incredible benefits of an already great artform. But, there’s even more to the story of how music affects the brain, and it’s especially relevant to those who want help supporting healthy aging.

Aging, Music, and the Brain: How Music Can Help Memory and More

As we age, so too do our brains. Those effects can be noticeable when it comes to things like memory and an overall feeling of being “sharp”. Music’s impact on the brain once again shines when looking at its effect on the aging mind. In fact, one study stated that older musicians exhibit “younger looking brains”, but there are still plenty of benefits to be enjoyed if you don’t play an instrument.2

We’ve discussed the way that music can stimulate brain activity and foster better connections between different regions. An organization called Music and Memory has been able to illustrate this effect of music on the brain in incredible ways by playing music for patients with dementia, who are suddenly able recall memories and better recognize loved ones as soon as they hear a favorite song from the past.

This benefit of music on the brain isn’t limited to individuals with dementia, though. According to an article from Harvard, studies in both the U.S. and Japan have found that older adults scored better on memory and reasoning tests after performing physical exercise to musical accompaniment for several weeks. The ability to retrieve previous memories and form strong new ones are both aided by music, thanks to the fact that it reactivates areas of the brain associated with memory, reasoning, speech, and emotion. It may not be as simple as throwing on The Beatles the next time you lose your keys, but the evidence suggests that working music into your personal wellness regimen may indeed keep your brain feeling younger!

Whether it’s music helping depression or the effects of music on the brain in supporting a healthy mind, the fact that something as straightforward as melodies and rhythms can have such a profound impact on wellness is truly amazing. Have fun with it, and utilize some of the creative ways of enjoying music we talked about here into your own routine.

For more interesting and informative content like this exploration of music and the brain, make sure to sign up for email updates to receive our Weekly Wellness Update newsletters!

  1. Maratos, A S et al. “Music therapy for depression.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews ,1 CD004517. 23 Jan. 2008, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004517.pub2
  2. Rogenmoser, L., Kernbach, J., Schlaug, G. et al. Keeping brains young with making music. Brain Struct Funct 223, 297–305 (2018).
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