HOBBIES ARE GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH

Do you have a hobby? Hobbies can give meaning and purpose to your life in retirement. As Robert Putnam points out in his book, Bowling Alone, it’s easy to discount the importance of hobbies and social engagements. Putnam details the widespread decline in civic engagement, from PTA memberships to neighborhood potlucks and bowling leagues. Over a couple of generations, Americans have misplaced the concept of free time.

SPECIAL PLANS FOR YOUR SPECIAL PEOPLE

Lily is a beautiful, active and full of personality toddler who happens to have Down syndrome. Lily’s parents and I have been friends for years and I have the continuing pleasure of watching Lily and her siblings grow up. While Lily is becoming a physical therapy rock star and hitting all her milestones in a timely fashion, her parents have started planning for the future.

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WHY WE ENJOY OUR HOBBIES

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hobby as “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation, engaged in especially for relaxation.” Hobbies include anything from playing a musical instrument to gardening, bird watching or sewing. A hobby is a way of focusing on something you enjoy just for the sake of that enjoyment. It may also be a way to clear your mental palette. You could be stressed out by a situation at work or the challenges of raising children and need an escape.

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Older adults learning to play the piano have increased amounts of human growth hormone (HGH), which is connected to reducing aches and pains that come with age. Higher HGH levels slow the progression of osteoporosis and increase energy, sexual function and muscle mass.


Learning to play the piano is a complex activity, requiring the ability to read as you play. This multi-tasking trains eye-hand co-ordination and develops independent hand coordination. This in turn stimulates multiple brain sections and improves reaction and productivity while strengthening neural pathways between the left and right brain hemispheres. Playing the piano uses a creative technique called divergent thinking that forces the use of both sides of the brain. When players exercise this technique regularly, they become better at creative thinking, improving the ability to problem solve.


People who play the piano regularly improve their mental state. Experiencing the victory of learning to play a piece of music encourages self-confidence. Engaging in music affects mood and provides stress relief. Playing the piano is a kind of ultrasound therapy, sending sound vibrations to the body that improve circulation and relax muscles. Playing music soothes and stimulates primary senses of touch and sight, causing the brain to release beta endorphins and dopamine, which leads to decreased anxiety, depression and loneliness. These aspects of mood affect overall wellness by stimulating the immune system to improve players’ health. There are private piano instructors who offer group lessons as well as in- home instruction.


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LEARNING TO PLAY THE PIANO

University of South Florida assistant professor of music education Jennifer Bugos studied aging adults who did or did not take piano lessons. She discovered six months of piano instruction for seniors showed impressive enhancements in memory, verbal fluency, information processing speed, planning ability and other cognitive functions over those who had not taken lessons.


Musical training improves the cognitive reserve in aging adults. Cognitive reserve – the term for how the brain fights against deterioration of function – is improved dramatically in aging adults who take piano lessons. Engaging in activities such as reading, writing or crossword puzzles is known to improve cognitive well-being and reduce the risk of dementia development. But seniors who learn to play the piano yield even more extraordinary improvements in multiple brain functions. Additionally, learning to play the piano enhances auditory working memory, which may reinforce the memory capacity that facilitates communication, conversation and the ability to distinguish consonants and vowel sounds. Learning to play piano fights against hearing loss and strengthens communication skills despite the aging process.

JENNY LEIGH HODGINS

Jenny Leigh Hodgins spent 30 years in music education and is a writer and composer and a caregiver for her mother in Lexington. Find her online at www.yourcreativechord.com and www. jlmusicstudio.com or email her at JennyLeighHodgins@icloud.com.

more articles by Jenny Leigh Hodgins

If you’ve always wanted to play the piano, taking lessons as a senior adult has more benefits than you may think. Beyond the sheer joy of musical experience, there’s a good chunk of science behind the positive effects of learning to play the piano as an older adult. These advantages go beyond simple enjoyment. The health boosts and the affect on cognitive abilities are a greater incentive.


Aging adults who learn to play the piano experience enhanced cognitive function, slowed deterioration in the fight against the aging process, stress relief, improved mood and a boost in self-esteem. A study of aging adults by the journal Frontiers in Psychology revealed learning a musical instrument enhances the activation of brain regions related to memory, attention, language processing, motor function and emotion. Listening to music has been shown to activate these multiple brain regions, but learning to play an instrument further increases these functions.


Neuropsychologists found such significant brain function activity enhancement from playing an instrument that the use of music training is under scrutiny for understanding brain plasticity progression. An institute in Barcelona, Spain, found participants who were assigned piano practice as opposed to those who did sports or painting showed greater neurological and psychological improvement.