How music benefits the mind, body and soul
Whether you like keeping up to date on the latest news and weather reports, or simply want some background noise, many of us enjoy having the radio on at home. But how much attention do you pay to the music? And when was the last time you went a step further and listened to your favourite album, sang a song, or danced along to a track from yesteryear?
After reading this blog, we hope you’ll be inspired to do all of the above, because we’re about to explore how music and movement can benefit our physical and mental wellbeing…
Why music matters
There’s no denying the power of music. A well-chosen song can whisk us back in time to relive poignant moments from our past, elevate our mood, or even move us to tears. From a medical point of view, studies show that listening to music can improve brain function and memory. It can also lower the body’s level of cortisol – a hormone that can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety – while triggering other chemical reactions in the brain to stimulate positive feelings.
And of course, where there’s music, there’s often dance. As we know, exercise is important for both our physical and mental health as we age, helping protect against numerous diseases, promote better sleep, and fight off depression. Because it can be done anywhere and doesn’t require any specialist clothing or equipment, dancing offers an achievable aerobic option for many people. Depending on the level of movement, it has been shown to improve coordination, balance, and mobility. Even clapping along to a beat can get the heart pumping!
Preventing and managing dementia
Exercise has also been proven to help guard against dementia, with a study in the New England Journal of Medicine finding that dancing in particular can delay its onset. And when it comes to playing music, there is evidence that learning an instrument later in life hones cognitive and fine motor skills. Indeed, research indicates that, after taking other variables into account, people who learn to play a musical instrument in middle age and beyond could be up to a third less likely to develop dementia.
For those who are already living with the condition, music can be used to bring back memories, slow age-related cognitive decline and improve cognitive processing speed. It can also help reduce some of the associated worry and low moods, and promote speech and language retention. Dance can be hugely beneficial too, because even those who struggle with memory loss can develop “muscle memory”, meaning they can keep dancing long after other hobbies have become too challenging.
Easing chronic pain
Experts also believe that music can alleviate pain in some people. Certain studies suggest that listening to favourite songs can reduce the need for painkillers and sedatives, and even decrease the duration of hospitalisation. And though more research is needed, it seems certain that music has the ability to trigger the release of opioids in the brain, reducing the feeling of pain. And, as many a midwife would attest, music can often provide an effective distraction, redirecting our attention away from discomfort.
Another reason to get back into music, is because it’s such a great connector. Sharing a song with friends or family can be a profound bonding experience and a useful conversation starter.
If you’re caring for – or care about – someone with dementia, then you can use music as a prompt for reminiscing, and to encourage them to open up about their past. You may even find it helps them to express their feelings and ideas more easily, and as we’ve said above, it may calm them in times of distress. For best results, choose music that your loved one knows and enjoys, as they will be more likely to react positively to it.
Outside of the home, dance and music groups offer the chance to meet new people and socialise. Attending a regular group can really help to reduce feelings of isolation and may see you forging new friendships. And with scientists claiming that frequent socialising can help us live longer, the wellbeing benefits of even a monthly meet up shouldn’t be discounted.
Bring back music
So now we know that music can be hugely beneficial. But if you’ve fallen out of the habit of listening to it, then here are a few suggestions to help reintroduce it back into your routines:
- Create a soundtrack for your day: pick different tunes or types of music to accompany you throughout the day. Something lively perhaps for breakfast time, then more relaxed after lunch. As a minimum, try playing soft, soothing music in the evening to help ease you into a restful bedtime.
- Join a community choir: increasingly popular, choirs are as much about socialising as they are about singing, and the good thing is that they’re open to people of all ages, so they can expand your friendship group as well as flex your vocal cords.
- Explore your spirituality: Whether you’re religious or not, there can be something transcending about listening to spiritual songs and hymns. Many services can be accessed online, or you could even visit local places of worship – though it may be worth checking in advance.
As for dancing, depending on your fitness and mobility levels, as well as your preferences, you may like to try:
- Seated dancing at home: remain sitting down but move the upper body in time to any music of your choosing
- Ballet classes for Seniors: whether you have danced before or simply want to try something new, many places now offer gentler ballet classes to keep you moving and mixing with new people
- Music and motion classes: lots of community centres now offer movement classes for older adults. You should be able to find details on your local council’s website. Alternatively, you can log in to a virtual class at home: moveitorloseit.co.uk, for example, offers a wide selection of seated or standing exercises designed to improve flexibility, aerobic health, balance and strength in exchange for a small monthly subscription
While it is always a good idea to do more physical activity, it’s worth speaking to your doctor or care team before beginning a new form of exercise. Beyond that, there’s no reason not to start your musical renaissance today – you’ll soon be thanking yourself!