We all want to keep ourselves fit and sharp for as long as we can. We get exercise, eat healthfully, try to reduce our stress, get some sunshine, and sleep eight hours a night.

We stay sharp by reading, keeping up with current events, and exploring hobbies. (Sudoku or pickle ball, anyone?)

In 2020, for reasons that may be readily apparent, a lot of us picked up old hobbies long since abandoned, honed some lost skills, and rediscovered some old pastimes.

One of the options sometimes overlooked for keeping us fit and sharp is the practice of learning to play an instrument. In particular, the skill of piano playing does wonders for both young and old. Whether or not you become a master of the piano is beside the point’ it’s really the habit of playing that reaps a lot of positive rewards.

Perhaps you have a youngster at home between the ages of 7 and 10. Perhaps he has a bit of trouble reading or doesn’t really care to read. Perhaps she has some trouble learning her math lessons or making observations.

It has been scientifically proven in innumerable studies that the acquisition of piano skills aids dramatically in the left/right brain connection, in the ability to track from left to right as we do when reading, and in the reinforcement of fundamental math skills. It is the repetition and schematic progression inherent in piano skills that form strong patterns of recognition in the brain.

Once these patterns begin to establish, mental agility and endurance are developed and enhanced. It has also been proven that hand-eye coordination is perhaps unparalleled in the development of piano skills, benefiting the pianist in numerous other contexts in life.

Moreover, reading notes on a staff is tantamount to learning a different language. This musical language has code, rooted in the number 4. Do you think your child might be a computer genius some day? Start him or her on the piano.

For those of us striving to stay mentally agile, I can recommend no other activity more heartily. If you played the piano in your younger years, the return to this skill that was learned in your prime reignites the formerly active youthful neurons and regenerates portions of the brain.

If piano is new to you, the step-by-step process of putting eyes, fingers, and ears to work in the pursuit of a collaborative outcome keeps the brain active and ordered. Set small, measurable, attainable goals, and find enjoyment in the daily training. The endorphins that your brain will release will bring you back to the keyboard for more!

Besides improved cognitive abilities, there are other rewards in learning to play the piano, too. Want to de-stress or relax? Get alone with your piano music. Want to be the life of the party? Entertain with your piano playing. Want to surprise your cultural counterparts who are zoning out on video games or Facebook? Learn to play the piano. You won’t regret it.

Jennifer Herrin is the co-owner of Kawai Piano Gallery by Herrin in Bluffton. jennifer@kpgbyherrin.com or kawaipianogallerybyherrin.com