Singing, dancing or listening – bring on the music!

Research results confirm that participating in a choir benefits brain health and overall well-being.

Whether it’s listening to a song that takes you back to the good old days, relaxing to classical music or exercising to your favourite beat, music’s benefits can enrich our lives both mentally and physically. So why not sprinkle your life with some feel-good sounds?

“Music can help reduce stress, improve mood, connect us to our memories and encourage social activity – all of which are important in keeping our brains healthy and our spirits alive,” says Dr. Amy Clements-Cortes, senior music therapist and practise advisor at Baycrest.

Dr. Clements-Cortes recently led a study at Baycrest to understand the benefits of participating in a choir on the health, wellness and successful aging of older adults who are cognitively well, as well as those diagnosed with dementia. The results of the research confirmed the positive benefits of music on brain health and over all well-being.

Participants in the group, called Buddy’s Glee Club, took part in a weekly one hour choral program for 16 weeks. They were assessed pre and post intervention for general health, self-esteem, anxiety, feelings/emotions and quality of life.

“There were five positive themes that emerged from the data including: friendship and companionship; simplicity; happiness, uplifting and positive feelings; relaxing and reduced anxiety; and fun,” says Dr. Clements-Cortes. “Many participants had previous musical experiences, and participation in this choir helped them reminisce about past choir experiences, childhood choirs, memories associated with music and raising their families. Participants indicated the choir was an overall positive and enjoyable experience which facilitated making friends, and singing familiar songs in a group with others.”

She adds that you don’t have to participate in a choir to reap the benefits of music. There are many ways that music can enhance your life including listening, dancing or playing an instrument.

Here are seven reasons to add music to your life:

1. Elevate your mood

Listening to music we like can positively affect our mood. Research shows that engaging in musical activities releases endorphins, chemicals produced in the brain, causing the same good feelings or natural “high” that people have after a run or other type of exercise.

2. Relieve your pain

Music is considered “the drug without side effects.” Endorphins also act as the body’s natural pain reliever. Music has the ability to reduce pain perception whether through the release of endorphins or by diverting attention away from the pain and encouraging relaxation.

3. Reduce stress

Numerous clinically based studies support the use of music as an effective way to decrease anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate.

4. Remember the good old days

Music can trigger long-term memories. Certain songs can take you back to a particular incident or happy time in your life. Think of the song that you danced to at your wedding. It will bring back memories of that special day and perhaps many of the emotions that were present.

As well, background music has been proven to be effective in helping to recall autobiographical details.

5. Stay sharp

If you learnt to play an instrument when you were younger, try picking it up again. You may be surprised by how much you remember. Like riding a bike, playing a musical instrument involves using your procedural memory, which you do not lose with age.

Playing an instrument also keeps you sharp because it involves the coordination of many parts of your body to do so. The necessary eye-hand coordination and reading of music stimulate the brain.

6. Socialize

Join a choir or drumming circle. This is a great way to meet new people, socialize and give you a sense of belonging — all of which are important as we age. Drumming is not only fun, but there are proven health benefits. Entire programs have been designed based on scientific evidence that drumming enhances well-being.

7. Get a good night’s sleep

If you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, slow music targeted at a certain beat can help slow down brain waves to help them synchronize with your heart and breathing rates. This slowing of the body’s processes helps prepare the body for sleep.

The study, Buddy’s Glee Club, was funded by donor Margie Nightingale in honour of her late husband, Buddy.

Related articles & links