Health & Wellness

Singing in a Choir Can Benefit Brain Function

A new study suggests that choir singing can also help fight anxiety and depression

By Caitlin Finlay


Physical activity, sufficient sleep, and a healthy diet are frequently cited as vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle as we get older. Additionally, it’s important to work to maintain cognitive function and social interaction, as both can affect quality of life.

Research has often pointed to playing a musical instrument as a way to keep the brain sharp. Now Finnish researchers say singing in a choir can confer both social and cognitive benefits.

Singing in a choir is a rewarding activity that not only provides social interaction but requires multiple brain functions: to learn and memorize songs as part of a group, to express the emotions associated with the songs, to produce the sounds and maintain voice control, to listen to the other singers to harmonize and follow along, and to maintain rhythm.

The study conducted by researchers at the University of Helsinki consisted of neuropsychological testing and a questionnaire measuring cognition, quality of life, social engagement, mood, and the role of music in daily life. The 162 participants were all 60 years old or older and comprised a control group of 56 non-singers and 106 singers—the latter were divided into two groups: those who had been participating in choir singing for more than 10 years and those participating for 10 years or less.

The results, published February 3 in the journal PLOS ONE, indicated that singers had better verbal flexibility than non-singers, although there were no differences in other cognitive domains. Choir singers who had participated consistently for more than 10 years reported better social integration than non-singers and choir-singers who had been involved for 10 years or less. The positive benefits social interaction include decreased anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

The newer choir-singers, those who joined within the last 10 years, reported feeling better about their overall health when compared to the non-singers or long-time choir singers. Regarding this finding, Emmi Pentikäinen, a doctoral student and the lead researcher, said in a press release: “It’s possible that the people who have joined a choir later in life have thus found the motivation to maintain their health by adhering to an active and healthy lifestyle. Then again, the relationships and social networks provided by being in a choir among those who have done it for longer may have become established as an integral part of their lives, therefore appearing as a greater feeling of social togetherness.”

Photo: iStock/Highwaystarz-Photography.