| Tue, Oct 01, 2013 @ 09:00 AM

Sing For the Health of It

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

church choirWhat if something as simple as singing could improve your health and well-being? That is just what researchers are trying to find out.

The idea first gained attention from scientists after a 2006 report in the journal Gerontologist. In a study conducted by the Center on Aging at George Washington University, researchers assigned 166 healthy adults aged 65 and older to one of two groups. The intervention group participated regularly in a choral singing group. The comparison group went about their usual activities.

Participants in both study groups completed questionnaires and other measurement tools at the beginning of the study and again after 12 months.

The group that participated in choral singing reported a higher overall rating of physical health compared to the group that didn’t. In addition, the singing group reported:

  • Fewer doctor visits

  • Less medication use

  • Fewer instances of falls

  • Fewer other health problems

  • Better morale

  • Less loneliness

Also, while the non-singing group showed a significant decline in the total number of activities engaged in by participants, the singing group reported a trend toward increased activity.

The benefits of choral singing and other social activities that also involve mental activity—such as a bridge club—may have a protective effect against dementia, according to a UCLA study reported at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in 2012. And if physical activity is added to the mix, the benefits are even greater. The study of over 800 men and women with an average age of 78 showed that those who were more physically, mentally and socially active had a lower risk for developing dementia. And those who combined these activities benefited the most. As a bonus, a recent article in the Frontiers of Neuroscience reports that choir music has a calming effect on the heart—especially when sung in unison.

There are many opportunities to start singing. Church choirs across the country are open to people of all ages. In addition, community choirs just for older adults are becoming more common. Here are just a few examples:

  • Young@Heart is a Northampton, Massachusetts, senior chorus. Active since 1982, the group rehearses twice a week, has released three CDs and has given concerts around the world, most recently in Belgium and Holland.

  • The Encore Creativity for Older Adults program in Maryland, Virginia and Washington offers 13 choruses for the 55-plus crowd. This program grew out of the 2006 study earlier in this article.

  • Rock the Ages in Mill Valley, California, performs regularly around the northern California region.

  • The Community of Voices project in San Francisco is currently recruiting singers over age 60—no previous choral experience required—at a dozen senior centers. This is part of a research project. Partially funded by the National Institutes of Health, the program will study mobility, cognition and psychosocial well-being over the course of a year.

Singing may never take the place of staying physically active and eating nutritious foods, but the growing evidence that it may improve health and well-being is welcome news. With the U.S. older adult population projected to more than double between 2010 and 2050 (from 40.2 million to 88.5 million) according to the U.S. Census Bureau, communities and institutions are looking for programs to promote healthy behaviors that may help reduce the need for long-term care.

Choral singing is an inexpensive, accessible way to enhance the lives of aging adults.

As Ella Fitzgerald once said, “The only thing better than singing is more singing

For more information, contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048. If you have questions about Medicare Made Clear, call 1-877-619-5582, TTY 711, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. local time, seven days a week.

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