Saturday, May 14, 2011

Forever young? Why being a musician can slow effects of ageing

The heading above is the original but is greatly exaggerated. What the study showed was that musicians were better at separating one sound from another -- and the explanation given for that is entirely reasonable

Learning to play a musical instrument helps keep people young, according to a new study. Researchers found that musicians aged 45 to 65 excel in memory and hearing speech in noise compared to non-musicians.

While a growing body of research finds musical training gives students learning advantages in the classroom, a new study has found musical training can also offset some of the negative effects of growing old.

Study co-author Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in the United States, said: “Lifelong musical training appears to confer advantages in at least two important functions known to decline with age - memory and the ability to hear speech in noise.

“Difficulty hearing speech in noise is among the most common complaints of older adults, but age-related hearing loss only partially accounts for this impediment that can lead to social isolation and depression. “It’s well known that adults with virtually the same hearing profile can differ dramatically in their ability to hear speech in noise.”

To find out why, researchers at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory tested 18 musicians and 19 non-musicians, aged 45 to 65, for speech in noise, auditory working memory, visual working memory and auditory temporal processing.

The musicians who began playing an instrument at age nine or earlier and consistently played an instrument throughout their lives bested the non-musician group in all but visual working memory, where both groups showed nearly identical ability.

Doctor Kraus said the experience of extracting meaningful sounds from a complex soundscape - and of remembering sound sequences enhances the development of auditory skills. She said: “The neural enhancements we see in musically-trained individuals are not just an amplifying or ‘volume knob’ effect. “Playing music engages their ability to extract relevant patterns, including the sound of their own instrument, harmonies and rhythms.”

Dr Kraus said music training “fine-tunes” the nervous system. She added: “Sound is the stock in trade of the musician in much the same way that a painter of portraits is keenly attuned to the visual attributes of the paint that will convey his or her subject. “If the materials that you work with are sound, then it is reasonable to suppose that all of your faculties involved with taking it in, holding it in memory and relating physically to it should be sharpened. “Music experience bolsters the elements that combat age-related communication problems.”

The study was published in the latest issue of the online science journal PLoS One.


Always feeling cold? You are destined to live a long life

Again the inferences from the research below are quite florid. What they found was that people with a slowed metabolism had slightly lower body temperatures. The same is seen in older people. Older people have slower metabolisms and also tend to feel the cold more. None of that is remarkable and there was NO evidence of any linkage to lifespan

They take a hot water bottle to bed in summer and are ridiculed for wearing their coat indoors. But those who constantly feel cold may have the last laugh, with a study linking low body temperature to a long life. Scientists suspect that the hormonal changes that conserve energy and heat – by slowing down metabolism – also extend life.

The U.S. research could pave the way for a pill to increase lifespan. It builds on decades of studies linking extreme diets in animals with extra months and years of life. For example, cutting a mouse’s calories by 30 per cent can lead to it living 50 per cent longer than usual.

Scientists are trying to work out what it is about near starvation that extends life, in the hope of creating a pill that mimics the process without drastic changes to diet.

The latest study, from Washington University, St Louis, looked at how cutting calories affects core body temperature – an internal measure that is on average 37c (98.6f) and usually higher than skin temperature. Scientists gave thermometer ‘pills’, which record core body temperature when swallowed, to 24 people in their mid-50s who had cut their calorie intake by at least 25 per cent for up to 15 years. They also gave them to people of the same age who ate normally and a group of long-distance runners.

Those on calorie restriction diets were found to have the lowest core temperatures, the journal Aging reports.

Lead researcher Dr Luigi Fontana said: ‘The people doing calorie restriction had a lower average core body temperature by about 0.2c, which sounds like a modest reduction but is statistically significant and similar to the reduction we have observed in long-lived, calorie-restricted mice.

‘What is interesting about that is endurance athletes, who are the same age and are equally lean, don’t have similar reductions in body temperature. ‘We know that people on calorie restriction diets feel colder than normal people because there is a lower metabolism and lower body temperature.’

Dr Fontana says it is not clear whether severe calorie reduction, or something else, is lowering core temperatures. But he believes a reduced temperature holds one of the keys to living to a ripe old age.

He stressed that any pill to lower body temperature could not compensate for a poor lifestyle, but added: ‘What may be possible, however, is to do mild calorie restriction, to eat a very good diet, get mild exercise and then take a drug of some kind that could provide benefits similar to those seen in severe calorie restriction.’

Sadly for those hoping for a short cut, it is unlikely that opening your windows or taking cold showers will have the same effect.


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