Music is not just good for the soul; it's also good for your brain. Playing a musical instrument is linked to better brain health as we age.

The British study used results from PROTECT, an online study open to people age 40 and over. Researchers analyzed data from more than 1,000 adults to find the effects on the brain of playing an instrument or singing in a choir or choral group.

Playing a musical instrument was linked to improved executive function, which involves both memory and the ability to make the decisions needed for complex tasks.

“A number of studies have looked at the effect of music on brain health. Our study has given us a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between cognitive performance and music in a large cohort of older adults,” Ann Corbett, a professor at the University of Exeter Medical School, said in a press release. Playing a musical instrument, particularly the piano, was linked to improved executive function, which involves both memory and the ability to make the decisions needed for complex tasks. And if you continue to play into later life, the study showed, there are even greater benefits.

Singing in a choir or choral group also appeared to help maintain better brain health, but the results were not clear-cut. The benefits that were found in the study could be related to singers being more social and engaging in a group activity, the researchers explained.

“Although more research is needed to investigate this relationship, our findings indicate that promoting musical education would be a valuable part of public health initiatives to promote a protective lifestyle for brain health, as would encouraging older adults to return to music later in life,” said Corbett.

Even if playing an instrument is out of your wheelhouse, there are many ways to keep your memory sharp. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the following choices you can make to help maintain your brain health:

  • Quitting smoking. Quitting now will not only help you maintain your brain health, but can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, lung disease and other smoking-related illnesses.
  • Maintaining a healthy blood pressure level. Ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg/.
  • Even if playing an instrument is out of your wheelhouse, there are many ways to keep your memory sharp.

  • Remaining physically active. Studies show exercise improves thinking, reduces the risk of depression and anxiety, and improves sleep.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. This includes eating foods that contain nutrients that are good for you, using portion control and avoiding highly processed and sugar-laden meals, as well as getting enough daily exercise.
  • Getting sufficient sleep. A third of Americans complain they’re not getting enough sleep. How much do you need? It depends on your age. The CDC recommends those 65 and older sleep between 7 to 8 hours.
  • Being socially engaged. Studies show staying connected to others is crucial for brain health.
  • Managing your blood sugar. This is especially important if you have diabetes. Follow your healthcare provider’s guidance.

The study is published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.