The Surprising Brain-Protecting Benefits of Music

It’s encouraging to see new research on music’s positive effects on the brain. Especially since the rates of dementia diagnoses show no signs of trending downward anytime soon.

In fact, the rate of diagnosed cases increased by 117 percent globally from 1990 to 2016.

Protecting your brain is more important than ever.

So today, I’m going to highlight some cutting-edge research on how you can protect your brain or help a loved one delay symptoms of dementia—even if they have early stages of the disease.

Music, Mind, and Movement

In a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, Australian researchers studied music as a therapeutic tool for dementia patients using a program they developed called the Music, Mind, and Movement (MMM) program.

The researchers found that music offers therapeutic effects because of its seven distinct qualities. Music is:

  1. Emotional
  2. Engaging
  3. Personal
  4. Persuasive
  5. Physical
  6. Social
  7. Synchronous (coordinating body movement and speech to music)

Researchers implemented the MMM program in the study, curating sessions that focused on one or more of the seven elements above.

Twenty patients with mild to moderate dementia participated in seven 45-minute group sessions per week for a total of seven weeks.

The group was divided in half. Group one participated in the MMM program, while group two received standard care.

Each session included music activities like drumming, group singing, group music listening, identifying the name and artist of songs, finishing song lyrics, and reminiscing about favorite songs.

They found that 67 percent of the patients in the MMM group improved cognition scores by three points, particularly in attention span and verbal fluency.

The researchers suggest that early music-based interventions could potentially optimize cognitive function and delay advanced stages of the disease in dementia patients.

Adding music to exercise

Another way to protect your brain with music is to listen to it while you exercise.

Based on evidence that exercise improves brain function in older adults, a group of Japanese researchers wanted to see if adding music to fitness routines could further enhance these effects.

In the 2014 study published in the Public Library of Science Journal, 120 healthy older adults worked out with a physical trainer for one 60-minute session per week for the duration of one year.

The participants all performed the same exercise routine, except one group worked out with music, while the other did not.

Researchers found that:

  • Both groups showed an increase in psychomotor speed-—what we normally refer to as “reaction time,” or how fast your cognitive function signals your body to move. You use psychomotor skills when you do things like drive a car, type, or throw a ball.
  • The group that listened to music during their workouts demonstrated significant improvements in their visuospatial function—your ability to gauge visual and spatial relationships among objects, like when you identify movement, depth, or distance.

By simply listening music as they exercised, the intervention group enhanced essential brain functions.

Start your own brain-building routine

Whether you’re exercising, running errands, or relaxing, adding music to your day can add a layer of effortless brain protection.

Here are a few ways you can start enjoying the cognitive benefits of music today:

  • Walk or jog to the beat of your favorite music 
  • Clap to the beat of the radio
  • Sing-along to old albums
  • Walk while humming your favorite song
  • Reminisce with friends or family about songs that have a strong sentimental meaning

Aim to do one of these activities for at least 10 minutes a day. Remember, it’s okay if you’re not always perfectly in time or in tune. As long as you’re doing the music while exercising, you get the cognitive benefits all the same.


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Brancatisano, O., Baird, A., and Thompson, W. (2019). A ‘Music, Mind and Movement’ Program for People With Dementia: Initial Evidence of Improved Cognition. Frontiers in Psychology. 10: p. 1435. Retrieved from:
Masayuki, S., et al. (2014).The Effects of Physical Exercise with Music on Cognitive Function of Elderly People: Mihama-Kiho Project. PloS One. 9(4): p. e95230. Retrieved from:

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