In a new study, researchers found that choir singing can improve cognitive functioning in the elderly.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Helsinki.
Alongside the effects of lifestyle, including physical exercise and diet, on aging, research has increasingly turned its attention to the potential cognitive benefits of musical hobbies.
However, such research has mainly concentrated on hobbies involving musical instruments.
The cognitive benefits of playing an instrument are already fairly well known: such activity can improve cognitive flexibility, or the ability to regulate and switch focus between different thought processes.
However, the cognitive benefits of choir singing have so far been investigated very little.
In the study, the team found choir singing may engender benefits similar to playing an instrument.
The results show that elderly singers had better verbal flexibility than those in the control group, who did not have choir singing as a hobby. Verbal flexibility reflects better cognitive flexibility.
In addition, those with a long history of singing in a choir experience a greater feeling of togetherness.
The study also looked into the potential benefits of choir singing for the emotional and social wellbeing of the elderly.
They found that those who had sung in a choir for a longer period, more than 10 years, felt greater social togetherness than those with less or no experience of choir singing.
Furthermore, people who had started choir singing less than 10 years ago were happier with their overall health than those with longer singing experience and those who did not sing in a choir.
This study supports findings previously gained on the effects of playing an instrument on the cognitive functioning of elderly people and gives some indications that choir singing too may potentially have similar beneficial effects.
The team says choir singing is easy to do in practice, with little cost.
It’s an activity that requires versatile information processing, as it combines the processing of diverse sensory stimuli, motor function related to voice production and control, linguistic output, learning and memorizing melodies and lyrics, as well as emotions roused by the pieces sung.
One author of the study is Emmi Pentikäinen.
The study is published in PLOS ONE.
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