Playing Piano for Brain Health

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Today I saw the film, Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore as a 50-year-old professor suffering from a rare type of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It breaks your heart to watch Alice losing her ability to communicate:

I can see the words hanging in front of me and I can’t reach them, and I don’t know who I am or what I’m going to lose next…

Besides winning accolades for Julianne Moore’s performance, Still Alice is raising awareness of the isolation experienced by sufferers of Alzheimer’s and dementias. In the film, Alice says, “I wish I had cancer” because of the shame and helplessness she feels about having Alzheimer’s.

Often cited as the #1 fear amongst older adults, scientists still don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s disease. According to the New York Times, it affects more than 5 million Americans and another 8 million people worldwide.

According to a CNN report, the good news is that with exercise, a good social life and music lessons, we might have a fighting chance against Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, an assistant professor of neurology at Emory University, believes that neural pathways in the brain that have been strengthened by music lessons, compensate to delay the damaging effects of aging. Her research has demonstrated that music lessons, even for amateurs, “provides a cognitive benefit that can last throughout a person’s life.”

If you read my blog post Fireworks in Your Brain, you’ll remember the animated short telling us that playing a musical instrument gives our brains a huge boost because it engages practically every area of the brain at once.

Although starting lessons as a child is advantageous, Hanna-Pladdy has shown that even playing music at an advanced age promotes improved cognitive functioning, and may stave off Alzheimer’s.

But there is one caveat…you must play for at least 10 years! If you already take piano lessons, this will come as no big surprise. Learning an instrument takes time, patience and will power.

I hope you will keep on playing your way to good health, happiness and beauty.

With love and music, Gaili

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7 SMART SNACKS!

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The latest food studies show that WALNUTS are at the top of the list of “brain foods.” Researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine at The University of California, Los Angeles have found that eating a small handful of walnuts per day can improve your memory! And they help you to lose weight by filling you up with omega-3s.

The British newspaper The Telegraph reported today on six additional snacks that are good for the mind:

1) Along with walnuts, SALMON is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are important nutrients for the heart and the brain. If you can’t find wild caught salmon, you can also try fish oil supplements. 

2) A study out of Tufts University showed that BLUEBERRIES can actually reverse memory loss, and improve balance and coordination. Antioxidants found in blueberries have also been shown to prevent macular degeneration and maintain eye health.

3) One of my favorite foods, AVOCADOS contain extremely healthy unsaturated fats, which help to keep brain cell membranes flexible. I like to spread avocado on rice cakes, or smash it with a little lemon and salt as guacamole into which I dip raw veggies like carrots and celery. 

4) WHOLE GRAINS such as brown rice, quinoa, barley and oats (steel-cut or oat “groats)) provide another source of healthy brain food. Prepare your grains whole then refrigerate leftovers instead of reaching for bread or pasta.

5) People who eat lots of BROCCOLI perform better on memory tests. Here’s what the experts say about broccoli’s nutrients: 

Vitamin K helps to strengthen cognitive abilities while Choline has been found to improve memory. Broccoli also includes a sizeable serving of folic acid, which can help ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Studies suggest that a lack of folic acid could lead to depression, so eating plenty of broccoli could also keep you happy.

6) Here’s the best news of all; DARK CHOCOLATE is great for your brain! The flavanols found in cocoa improve blood flow to the brain which improves cognitive function and verbal fluency in older adults. My favorite hot drink is to mix raw cocoa powder with almond milk. Drinking this throughout the day instead of eating is my best weight control secret!

Are you hungry now? What other brain foods do you enjoy?

With love and music, Gaili

Check out our awesome books, free sheet music and videos! UpperHandsPiano.com

 

 

Playing An Instrument Is Like Fireworks In Your Brain!

 

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I recently came upon this Ted Ed lesson on how playing an instrument is like fireworks going off in your brain!

Through delightful animation, Anita Collins shows us that playing a musical instrument gives a huge boost to our brains.

She tells us that “disciplined, structured practice strengthens brain functions, allowing us to apply that strength to other activities.”

If you ever wondered why it’s so difficult learning to play the piano, consider this:  “Playing a musical instrument engages practically every area of the brain at once.” [We piano players leave crossword puzzle solvers and new language learners in our dust!]

PLAYING MUSIC IS THE BRAIN’S EQUIVALENT OF A FULL BODY WORKOUT

Click below to watch the 4:44 minute video. I know you’ll enjoy it!

Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain!

With love and music, Gaili

Check out our awesome piano books, free sheet music and videos! UpperHandsPiano.com

The Mediterranean Diet Can Help Prevent Major Illness

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A short article in AARP today affirms what we have known for years, that a good diet can help you to avoid serious illnesses such as Parkinson’s, cancer, and Kidney and Lung Diseases. The women who ate the Mediterranean Diet also did better on memory tests and their ability to move around.

The Mediterranean diet consists of vegetables (especially dark leafies like kale and spinach) , fruits (especially berries), raw nuts, whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa, and legumes such as lentils and black beans, with fish and a little poultry. You use Olive Oil instead of butter to cook with. You can read the article here.

If you eat a Mediterranean Diet, exercise regularly, stay social, and train your brain with piano lessons, you will be doing everything you can to live the healthiest and happiest life possible!

With love and music, Gaili

Check out our awesome books, free sheet music and videos! UpperHandsPiano.com

ANTI-AGING

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The aging process, though inevitable, is unpredictable. Authors Rudolph Tanzi Ph.D.,  and Deepak Chopra M.D. of the book  SUPER BRAIN say that there are these unknowable factors about how the brain ages:

  1.  Aging is very slow- It starts at about age 30 and progresses at about 1% per year. Some cells age more quickly than others, and they age too slowly to observe over time.
  2. Aging is unique- Everyone ages differently, even twins. Life experiences create unique genetic patterns as we age.
  3. Aging is invisible- Though we can see outer changes in cells such as graying hair and wrinkling, the inner life of our cells at the molecular level are impossible to track.

In spite of these uncertainties, we can impact our cells by sending positive messages from our central nervous system, and minimizing negative messages. We can affect our own DNA! Drs Chopra and Tanzi talk about the mind-body connection. As much as we’d like to simply take an anti-aging pill, lifestyle choices are really our best defense against aging.

How to reduce the risks of aging:

PHYSICAL

  • Eat a Mediterranean Diet- olive oil instead of butter, fish instead of red meat, whole grains, beans, nuts, whole vegetables and fruits. Cut way back on fats, sugar, and ready-made processed foods.
  • Avoid overeating. Just walk away from excess food.
  • Exercise moderately for at least 1 hour 3 times per week.
  • Drink alcohol, preferably red wine, in moderation, if at all.
  • Take steps to avoid household accidents (from slippery floors, steep stairs, fire hazards, etc.)
  • Get a good night’s sleep , and take an afternoon nap if you like.

EMOTIONAL

  • Have good friends.
  • Don’t isolate yourself.
  • Engage socially in worthwhile projects.
  • Be close with people who have a good lifestyle–habits are contagious
  • Follow a purpose in life.
  • Leave time for play and relaxation.
  • Address issues around anger.
  • Practice stress management. 

These lifestyle choices affect longevity and quality of life. If you have started, continued, or restarted music lessons later in life, you have already surpassed the biggest obstacle to longevity:

“The most crippling aspects of aging tend to involve inertia. That is, we keep doing what we’ve always done. Starting in late middle age new things gradually fall by the wayside. Passivity overtakes us; we lose our motivation.”

Not you! Piano lessons are offering new challenges to your brain every time you sit down to practice. And playing the piano keeps you humble!  🙂

More about longevity on Sunday. Tomorrow I will be traveling all day, to visit my older daughter in East Hampton, NY. By Sunday I will have access to a computer again.

With love and music, Gaili