A new study has found that moderately vigorous physical activity in midlife leads to better cognition in old age.
I’m not sure whether “playing bagpipes” falls into “moderately vigorous activity” but I do know more than a few folks who exert quite an effort during a normal playing session. What is more interesting is the fact that more and more, information keeps coming to light that confirms that different forms of exercise helps the brain function better, at any age.
The study in question is a 25-year follow up of more than 3,000 twins at middle age and has shown that subjects who engaged in moderate physical activity were shown to have better cognition years later than their inactive cohorts. These benefits were independent of other health benefits of exercise and included improvement in memory and recall. “Moderately vigorous” is defined as more strenuous than just walking. Increased activity did not increase memory and recall, a moderate amount up to a point was enough to receive benefits.
Playing bagpipes (or any musical instrument) is a mentally demanding task. It is a cognitive effort as much as a physical one. It’s one of the reasons young players develop so rapidly, seemingly effortlessly learning and playing tunes. Their entire biology is positioned for maximum growth up to adulthood. As we age, that rapid-fire growth stops, but, as researchers are finding out it does not stop in the brain. Our physical bodies might change as a greater proportion of our cells decay, but no so in the brain. We just have to work at it harder to keep that growth going.
What this means is that, as an adult, it is by no means impossible to embrace the mental demands required of a Highland bagpiper. One just cannot expect to learn and develop as if they were a teenager. As mentioned before many folks take up the bagpipes at an older age, some in, or past, midlife. Also, as mentioned before, the brain literally can grow new structures through different forms of activity at any age. The common thread for success in it all: physical exercise.
For anyone in the early stage of their bagpipe learning as an adult, part of that learning regimen should include physical exercise of some sort. As the research continues to show, nothing will set up your brain for the mental demands of bagpipe music better and keep you playing into an advanced age.