A new study out of Scotland offers a powerful argument for having children or teens learn a musical instrument—they may end up with sharper minds in old age. The study from the University of Edinburgh found what researchers describe as a small but "statistically significant" link between the two. Using the long-range "Lothian Birth Cohort 1936"—a group of individuals born in that year who've been participating in studies over the years—researchers found that octogenarians with stronger cognitive skills were more likely to have played an instrument in their youth, per the UK Times.
Co-author Ian Deary, who used to head up the university's cognitive aging center, acknowledged that the numbers involved are small—of 366 study participants, 117 played an instrument—and that researchers can't prove that music lessons are responsible for the sharper minds. "However, as we and others search for the many small effects that might contribute toward some people's brains aging more healthily than others, these results are worth following up," he says, per the Guardian.
In the study, the most common instrument played was the piano, but the researchers didn't suggest that any one instrument was better than the rest. Guitars, violins, accordions, and even bagpipes (it was a Scottish study, after all) were also mentioned. Researchers say the "gains in general cognitive ability" were evident even after accounting for factors such as socioeconomic status, years of education, and health in older age. (Read about other discoveries.)