Fa-la-la? Or was that ho-ho-ho?

A study published last month in The Journals of Gerontology found that older adults who sang in a community choir for six months reported less loneliness and more interest in life, compared to a control group.

The study included 390 people in San Francisco who sang together weekly in 90-minute sessions and performed publicly three or four times. 

While other studies have examined the benefits of group singing, this one focused on folks with a median age of about 70, and was noteworthy for the racial diversity of its subjects. 

Why singing helps

Stephen M. Scheinthal, DO, a gerontologist and chair of the department of psychiatry at Rowan University in New Jersey, says the power of participating in a choir may stem from two sources—the sense of community and the music itself. 

Numerous studies have found that loneliness in older adults is linked to declines in cognitive ability, function, and motor skills. Participating in regular, structured activities—like singing groups—can offset those declines.

“Especially this time of year, when the days are shorter, there’s a tendency for adults in particular to want to withdraw into our homes and stay in. Going to choir gives you a sense of belonging and a sense of community,” says Scheinthal.

The power of music

But choirs also may offer greater psychological benefits than other types of group activities such as team sports, according to a 2016 study

Choirs may offer greater psychological benefits than other types of group activities.

Music has the power to arouse emotion, says Scheinthal. “It makes us cry. It makes us smile. It makes us feel things deep inside. It evokes fond memories from our past.”

Moreover, community choirs are inexpensive, and can be tailored to the musical tastes of a cultural group. They’re also easy to access—while some choirs require try-outs to participate, many allow almost all interested parties to join.

If singing’s not your thing

Not everyone likes to sing, of course.

The good news is that other arts-based activities may offer similar benefits. A study developed by the National Endowment for the Arts and George Washington University examined a geographically, racially, and ethnically diverse group of older adults in the U.S. who were involved in weekly art programs.

People in the study wrote and read poetry, made jewelry or pottery, sketched, painted, danced, or played music.

The study found that, compared to people in a control group, participants reported better health, fewer doctors’ visits, less use of medication, better mental health, and more involvement in activities.