How Does Music Benefit Your Brain? Your Favorite Songs Can Support your Brain Health

If you want to keep your body young, exercise. If you want to keep your brain young, listen to music. How does music benefit your brain? Research has shown that listening to music can do wonders for our bodies and minds, from reducing anxiety and blood pressure to improving mood, mental alertness, and memory. 

Even though there’s still a lot we don’t know about the relationship between music and the brain, developments in cognitive neuroscience have allowed us to speculate on some possible mechanisms. We’ve laid out just why and how music benefits the brain below, particularly for those with chronic diseases that affect cognition, memory, and mood. 


Music activates nearly every region of the brain

It activates networks all over the brain, starting in the auditory cortex in the temporal lobes and spreading out from there. Furthermore, music synchronizes the parts of the brain involved in emotion with each other when activated by music. Music also activates memory regions (doesn’t that old song just take you back?) and motor systems. 


Brain highways need upkeep

Brain pathways, those highways along which neurons send information to the brain to carry out certain functions, need upkeep, just like routes do. If no one has driven along a road for a long time, it gets overgrown, and potholes form. The brain’s neural networks are the same way. The brain needs a reason to use them to keep them up and running. Brains are efficient, so they will readily shut down pathways that aren’t being used. 


Music keeps your brain strong

So just how does music benefit your brain? Because music can activate nearly every brain region, it can help you practice and maintain all skills involved in learning, cognitive function, quality of life, and happiness. Studies have shown that listening to music improves cognition, though only some types of music, like smooth jazz and classical, have demonstrated these effects. 


Music as a treatment for dementia and Alzheimer’s 

Listening to music can also improve memory and learning, which is helpful for those with diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s. Musical patterns help us form habits ourselves and remember information more easily. That’s why learning information to the tune of a song can still stick in your head years, even decades later. Music therapy can even be considered a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. People living with dementia may be able to recover cognition and lost memories by listening to certain types of music. Additionally, studies have shown that music can help to alleviate the anxiety and hallucinations that often plague those with dementia. 


Music as anxiety and depression relief

Music isn’t just beneficial to those with dementia or other age-related diseases. It can also help those who suffer from chronic depression and anxiety. Anxiety affects around 40 million adults in the U.S., and around half of those also suffer from depression. But music can be a great antidote to the pain of these conditions. 

Levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop, and dopamine levels, the reward hormone, rise when the brain is stimulated by music. This is because the amygdala, the brain’s mood and emotion processing center, is also responsible for processing music. Lower cortisol levels and higher dopamine levels are a good combination for those whose anxiety and depression are causing the opposite effect. Chronic stress causes hormonal imbalances, headaches, insomnia, and other physical ailments. But listening to music can relieve this stress and, subsequently, those symptoms. 


There are countless benefits to incorporating music into your daily life. For more information on how to keep your brain healthy, check out the other fantastic articles on the Scripps Affiliated Medical Group’s website.

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