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
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
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
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!