It’s only Rock n’ Roll But It Grows New Brain Cells

by Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.

As Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones sang awhile ago:  "Oh no, it’s only rock n’ roll and I like it. I like it. Yes I do!”

I like it, too.  My personal special form of mental exercise or “brain aerobics” as it’s called, is writing and playing music.

My interest in music and my musical career actually goes back to the 7th grade when my mother, a former semi-professional violinist, signed me up for band class and suggested I play the French horn. I liked the horn right away and although I had a brief foray into playing the trumpet, I stuck to the horn all through High School, playing in the band and concert orchestra. Beyond that, every summer I went to the University of Miami Summer Music Camp and, in fact, I was seriously considering music as a career.

But something happened along the way. I changed my mind and decided to become a doctor. I believe it was because of medicine playing such an important part in my family: many of my relatives were involved in the healing arts.

I’ll never forget the day I decided to become a doctor. I woke up in the morning and told my mother I was going into medicine. I think she was a little sad about it because she loved music, but she was also very supportive of my decision. I put down the horn that morning and never played it again.

But I didn’t stop playing music.

Having a house-mate who was a drummer in a band in college definitely inspired me to pick up the guitar, harmonica, and piano. And don’t forget the times. This was the late 60’s and, like millions of others of that generation, I was totally into the Beatles and The Stones. I also started writing a few songs back then-all as a fun hobby.

Later, going to medical school at Creighton University in Omaha, and doing my anesthesiology residency at The University of California in San Francisco, left little time for playing music. But that all changed when I began my research and writing on Brain Longevity.

Why? Because I discovered how powerfully important it is to use your brain in a novel way. In other words, I learned how crucial it is to exercise your mind in a way other than you use it in your work life.

I know some lawyers will say, “Yeah but I use my mind all day. Why do I have to think?”

But one of the keys to brain longevity is using your mind in a new area not related to your work; in other words, some way different.

For example, I had a patient named Janice from New York, who started to lose her memory and was afraid of Alzheimer’s Disease.  During our consultation she told me she used to paint. I therefore encouraged her to take up painting again as apart of her overall brain longevity program. Just this one activity helped her tremendously.

I’ve had many other patients benefit from mental exercise, be it storytelling, watching game shows on TV, or discussing current events. Here’s why mental exercise works so well to enhance your memory:

Recent medical research into this topic reveals that using your brain, exercising your mind in a different way than your work, creates what scientists call neurogenesis.

Neurogenesis is when your brain actually grows new brain cells. Yes, you read it correctly! You can make new brain cells and, perhaps equally as important, you can enhance the memory power of the brain cells that you already have. For example, you may have some brain cells operating at 50% of optimal potential. Other cells may be at 100%, and still others may have already died and are unusable. So, as you can probably see, the key is to get those brain cells that are working at 50% up to as close to 100% as possible.  And now we know this can be done. You can take weak brain cells and make them strong again.

So try something new today for Alzheimer’s Prevention and get your brain cells working!