Art is like Chocolate for the Brain

We know exercise helps strengthen our minds and our bodies. Crossword puzzles, word scrambles and other “brain games” are popular choices for people trying to preserve their memory. We know that taking on new challenges keeps the brain sharp.

But now, new research shows these activities are not challenging enough. Learning a new skill, such as painting, musical activity, singing in a chorus, or photography are better ways to keep your brain sharp. Engagement with music, dance and other arts may be just as powerful for preserving mental health and acuity throughout our lives.

The brain changes in response to what you do. Put another way, behavior shapes and sculpts brain networks: What you do in your day-to-day life is reflected in the wiring patterns of your brain and the efficiency of your brain’s networks. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in your attention networks.

Attention plays a crucial role in learning and memory, and its importance in cognitive performance is undisputed. If you really want to learn something, pay attention! The brain has a system of neural pathways dedicated to attention. Training these attention networks improves general measures of intelligence.

Focusing our attention on learning and performing an art —if we practice frequently and are truly engaged—activates these same attention networks, which in turn can improve cognition more generally. We therefore would expect focused training in the arts to improve cognition generally.

Summing-up: Remember chocolate for the brain. When you are looking for an activity to improve brain health, choosing an arts program is likely to be your best bet.

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