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Music builds brain muscles that last a lifetime

Oct. 12, 2012 @ 11:45 PM

Humpback whales sing; honeybees buzz; even trained dogs can croon (check out the 93,000 YouTube segments of would-be-Pavarotti pooches). Music expresses complex emotions, impresses brain function and just plain makes us all happier and smarter -- particularly if you have the chance to play an instrument when you're young. (A well-kept secret: You don't even have to have much talent!) Infants who play interactive music games with parents are easier to soothe and more expressive. And if you have just one to five years of music lessons as a kid and you never touch an instrument again, your adult brain will still sing arias -- although they're not guaranteed to be on key! Throughout your life, you'll be better at listening to others and at learning.

How does music do all that? It lights up many parts of the brain that groove to rhythm and melody, particularly centers that control emotions, motion and creativity. And that increases your visual and verbal -- not just auditory -- skills.

So let the kids beat on the pots and pans (well, OK, maybe draw a line there), encourage piano lessons, and don't let your school eliminate music classes (in some states, half of all music classes have disappeared in the past five years).

And if you didn't have music lessons as a kid, don't feel discouraged. You still can kick-start your inner Van Cliburn. Adults who take up an instrument gain great rewards: stress reduction, increased self-esteem and a defense against dementia. Start up the band!

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.RealAge.com.

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