Researchers investigating link between music, healthy aging

Whether it's singing, listening to or playing it, music is a part of everyday life for millions of people. It's no secret that listening to one of your favorite songs can improve your mood, but some researchers believe that carrying a tune could actually offer both physical and mental health benefits for older adults. In an effort to find out, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco recently launched a four-year study to uncover whether being in a community choir could hold the key to healthy aging.

Participants in the study must be 60 or older and are not required to have any previous choral training. Over the course of one year, subjects will take part in weekly 90-minute singing sessions. Researchers will be interested in assessing music's impact on several areas of senior health including cognitive function, mobility and their general well-being. Study leaders hope the findings can uncover another activity that fits in a healthy lifestyle for seniors.

"The goal is to provide scientific-based evidence that community arts programs can be used to promote health," said Jelene Johnson, a cognitive neuroscientist and professor at the UCSF School of Nursing's Institute for Health & Aging. "Everyone says, 'Yes, of course they must be good for us,' but we don't have enough evidence yet."

Researchers are confident they will find some health benefits to studying music, particularly because there is other evidence that suggests music can strengthen the connections between neurons. Not only that, but singing as a group could help seniors improve their social ties. 

It should not come as much of a surprise that reading music could offer potential benefits as well. A number of studies, including one published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggest that mental stimulation, whether through playing cards or reading, could prevent memory loss.