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Learn Music, Get Smart

Training in music while still young effects changes in the brain that enhance one’s speech and sound abilities.
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Practitioners of music therapy, like most members of the listening public, vouch for the healing qualities of music. Music soothes a stressed mind, elevates the soul, and helps cope with illnesses. What if it also improves intelligence? Can we say that learning the violin or piano would make you smarter? We could debate the meaning of “intelligence”, but many neuroscientists and psychologists are now beginning to answer the question in the affirmative.

In a review paper published last week in Nature, Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran, both of the School of Communication at Northwestern University near Chicago, claim that training in music changes the brain significantly. And that these changes would help specifically in skills like speech processing, and generally in many areas that involve the processing of sound. Musicians get better at remembering things, have better motor skills, and can also pay attention better in a sea of noise. “Music training improves auditory skills that are not exclusively related to music,” write the authors.

Music is a sophisticated art form that invokes several skills even to listen. From an auditory point of view, it has three aspects: pitch, timing and timbre. Timing is at the heart of rhythm, and timbre is involved in the quality of sound. At a deeper level, it involves a complex organisation of sound. Great musicians and highly sophisticated listeners, particularly of classical music, would often point to deep cultural facets as well.

Learning music would call into play basic skills as well higher cognitive abilities. Musical training is a complex task that involves several brain areas. At a basic level, it requires the ability to identify pitch, the frequency of a note. Even the most basic learner needs to tune the instrument first. This isn’t easy, and many people simply can’t identify the pitch of a note easily, no matter how hard they try. Good musicians need to have a great sense of timing. They also need to distinguish timbre, which actually conveys the richness of sound (while pitch is the basic frequency, timbre is the fine structure of a note). The ability to identify these three basic features needs considerable training.

A long history of training in music shows up in the brain structure. The brains of musicians show more grey matter in areas that are important for playing a specific instrument. In physiological terms, this change results in increased activation of neurons (brain cells) when exposed to sound. For example, the strength of activation when exposed to the sound of an instrument depends on the length of training on that instrument. What this shows, and Kraus and Chandrasekaran argue, is that the changes were acquired through training and are not innate differences in the brain.

Areas in the brain that get developed through musical training are involved in at least three faculties: sound processing, visual processing and motor control. This is why learning to perform music is different from listening, no matter how deep. “Listening to music does not involve motor control,” says Vinod Menon, professor at the department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, Stanford University. Menon’s lab studies, among other things, show the brain processes music and also the similarities and differences between music and speech processing in the brain.

Language and music seem to be two different subjects, but there are many similarities between them. At a fundamental level, both involve the processing of sound. Some of the finer skills that musicians have are transferred easily to the processing of speech, which also uses attributes like pitch and timbre to convey information. “Musicians would be able to detect easily fine distinctions in speech like irony or sarcasm,” says T.S. Sridhar, professor of molecular medicine at St Johns Medical College, Bangalore. Sridhar has experience of working in auditory physiology.

This skill could translate to being able to identify emotions in speech much better than in the case of non-musicians. Musical training uses a high working memory, an ability that is extremely useful in language. It also involves paying close attention to sound, which also translates to a skill in language: the ability to listen carefully to a stream of sound amidst a sea of noise. Many experiments have shown that neurons in the brains of musicians indeed show a higher response when exposed to the sound of language when compared to non-musicians.

Since the strength of such response is dependent on the length of training, it always helps to start early. Kraus and Chandrasekaran argue that seven years is the best age to start. This in turn raises another question: can one get the benefits of musical training — in terms of translatable skills — when training in later life? Says Kraus, who is Hugh Knowles Professor of communication sciences, neurobiology and physiology and otolaryngology at Northwestern University, “There is evidence that the nervous system, and in particular the auditory system, continues to change throughout the life times of human and non-human animals. An important area for future research is to determine specifically the effects of musical experience — begun later in life — on the nervous system.”

So performers, play on, be it for your brain or your heart. As a commentary on the Nature article argues, music could be taught and learned for its own sake and not merely to improve the brain.

Source The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure

Dark chocolate can reduce blood pressure but over-indulgence in it can cause harm, suggests a new study by researchers in Germany. Chocolates are made from cocoa – the dried and partially fermented fatty seed of the cacao tree.

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Cocoa contains flavonoid, a type of chemical that researchers say has been shown to improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure.

Researchers at the University Hospital of Cologne studied 44 people with raised blood pressure, putting them into two groups. One ate six grams of dark chocolate daily, the other the same amount of white chocolate.

The people were between 56 to 73 years with either upper-range pre hypertension (blood pressure between 130/85 and 139/89) or stage 1 hypertension (blood pressure between 140/90 and 160/100).

None of those eating dark chocolate registered changes in body weight or their levels of glucose and lipids, the researchers wrote in the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA).

Their systolic blood pressure – the upper reading which measures the force of blood as the heart beats – fell by 2.9 mm and their diastolic blood pressure – the lower figure taken as the heart relaxes – reduced by 1.9 mm.

The suggestion that cocoa is beneficial for health is not new and previous research had also suggested it could bring down blood pressure.

However, it had been thought that large quantities were needed to achieve the desired effect and that the benefits would then be offset by the consequences of consuming the high levels of fat and sugar associated with cocoa products.

But the researchers said they have now shown that benefits can be achieved with a small amount – 30 calories worth of chocolate.

They noted that the blood pressure reduction was small but stressed that the effects were clinically noteworthy.

A 3 mm reduction in blood pressure could “reduce the relative risk of stroke mortality by 8 percent, of coronary artery disease by 5 percent, and of all cause mortality by 4 percent,” the researchers said.

They also stressed that asking people to consume a couple of chunks of chocolate a day was far easier than encouraging “complex behavioural changes” to help them reduce their blood pressure.

However, the British Heart Foundation‘s nutritionist Sara Stanner warned that it was “important to remember that chocolate is also high in fat and calories so over-indulgence is not good for your heart.
Source:The Times Of India

Hope In Hardship

Anything Can Be Overcome
The journey that each human being makes through earthly existence can have hardship as often as it is touched by joy. When we encounter adversity, the stress we feel can erode our optimism, eventually convincing us that the issues we face cannot be overcome. In truth, there is no situation so dire, no challenge so great, and no choice so bewildering that it cannot be overcome. Though we may believe that all avenues have been closed to us or that our most conscientious efforts will come to naught, we are never without feasible options. The best course of action may be veiled in doubt, but it is there. When we are honest with ourselves with regard to this simple fact, we can overcome anything because we will never stop looking for a solution to the challenges before us.

Self-trust coupled with a sturdy plan is the ultimate antidote to adversity’s tendency to inspire disillusionment in the human mind. As difficult as the obstacle plaguing you seems, it is no match for the love of a supportive universe that has been a part of your life since the day of your birth and will be with you forevermore. Try not to be misguided by your fear as this gives rise to the notion that there are problems without solutions. If you believe in your capabilities and dedicate yourself to the creation of some form of resolution, you will be surprised to discover that paths that were once closed to you miraculously open. Even if all you can do is change your perspective to turn an impediment into an opportunity to grow, you will have found the hope that is an inherent element of all hardship.

Remember that your destiny is a product of your own creation. Even when it seems you have nowhere left to turn, there is a solution waiting for you. The only insurmountable obstacles are the ones you create in your own mind—and these can only exert power over you if you let them. Uncertainty will always be a part of your existence, but perseverance and mindfulness will never fail to see you through to the other side of hardship where joy can thrive. Try and remember that no matter what life places at your feet, there is absolutely no situation that cannot be resolved with time, love, and friendship.

Source:Daily Om

A Few Tips for Healthy Aging

Today, due to numerous medical and scientific advances, people are living longer than ever before. But you don’t just automatically live longer  you have to be good to your body, mind, and soul. The following tips may be a good start for getting you on your way to living a long and healthy life.

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Eat a balanced diet
:- One that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber and low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. A well-balanced diet can provide your body with the essential nutrients needed to achieve and maintain optimum health.
Be physically active :– Try to incorporate 30 minutes of activity into your day, every day. The options are endless; start walking on the beach in the mornings, join a yoga class, try jogging with a friend, sign up for a basketball league, or go for a bike ride in the afternoons. Make sure you choose activities that you enjoy, that way you’ll be more likely to make them a habit.

If possible Try to do some yoga rxercise under the supervision of an expart.

Meditation and deep breathing exercise considered very effective for aged people.
Get regular preventive check ups: – See your doctor regularly; remember your doctor is your partner in healthcare. The two of you are working toward the same goal—your optimum health. By having regular check ups, you may be able to catch small problems before they become big problems. And, it is just as important to visit you dentist regularly as well.

You will get more information on men’s health screenings, if you click here.
You will get more information on women’s health screenings,if you click here.
Don’t smoke :- Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable death. This year alone, more than 400,000 people will die from smoking-related causes. It is never too late to quit. Your body will begin to feel the benefits almost immediately. Did you know that after one day of quitting, your risk of having a heart attack decreases?
Be Safe:– Use common sense and be street smart. Don’t put yourself in situations that are questionable. Just a few ways you can put safety first include:
Always wear your seatbelt and bike helmet.

Use smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
Don’t go for a run, walk, or jog at night by yourself. Most attacks happen to people who are alone. Just by bringing a friend, you reduce your risk.
Use medicines wisely: follow directions and ask your doctor or pharmacist about side effects and drug interactions.
Keep your home well lit and free of things that could make you fall.
Avoid environmental extremes :- Protect your skin when you are outdoors—don’t get too much sun. Dress appropriately for the weather and avoid getting too hot or too cold.

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation :- For a man under 65, moderation means no more than two drinks a day; for a man over 65 or a woman of any age, moderation means no more than one drink a day.

One drink is:
One 12-ounce bottle of beer
One 5-ounce glass of wine
1.5 ounces of spirits


Keep your personal and financial records in order
: – start planning now for your long-term housing and financial needs. For information on banking, saving, buying, getting credit, and investing, check out Consumer.gov at http://www.consumer.gov/yourmoney.htm—an excellent resource that can answer many of your questions.
Stay in touch with family and friends :- get to know your neighbors. Take the time to be involved with your community. By creating a strong social network, you will not only have friends to celebrate with when good things happen, but also a support system in difficult times.
Always Keep a positive attitude :- studies have shown that people who have a positive attitude tend to live longer, and lead healthier and happier lives. Don’t take it all so personal; rarely does it really have anything to do with you. Try to find the humor in life. And remember to laugh; several studies have shown that laughter makes you feel better. But really, who needed a study to prove that. Just laugh, and you will know it is true.

Help taken from:www.beliefnet.com