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9 Health Benefits of Music as You Age

Stress relief, improved mood among top perks cited by older adults, AARP-backed poll finds


spinner image man selecting music on his mobile phone strapped to his arm with earbuds connected
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Older adults find music to be more than a source of entertainment. The vast majority say it improves their health, according to a new report.

Results from the latest AARP-supported University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging find that 98 percent of adults ages 50 to 80 get some sort of health-related benefit from music, the most common being stress relief and relaxation.  

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Other reported benefits include pain relief and improvement in mood and mental health. What’s more, a significant share of older adults (27 percent) say music connects them to others — a key finding, given the toll that loneliness and isolation can take on one’s health. A recent advisory from the U.S. surgeon general says social disconnection can shorten lives by about as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. About 1 in 3 older adults (34 percent) report feeling isolated from others, data from 2023 shows.

9 Health Benefits of Music

Nearly all older adults (98 percent) polled stated they get some health-related benefit from music, including:

  1. Stress relief and relaxation (75 percent)
  2. Joy (73 percent)
  3. Improves mental health, mood or attitude (65 percent)
  4. Sparks memories or helps recall life events (61 percent)
  5. Motivates or energizes (60 percent)
  6. Helps them feel a spiritual or religious connection (36 percent)
  7. Keeps the mind sharp (31 percent)
  8. Connects them with others (27 percent)
  9. Reduces pain (7 percent)

Source: University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging

The overwhelming consensus that music makes people feel better is something that we have to take “very seriously,” says Joel Howell, M.D., a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and a coauthor on the poll. “What else in the world can you get 98 percent agreement on?”

There’s no doubt music’s role in medicine has grown in recent years, as it’s been shown to affect blood pressure, memory, pain, depression, stroke recovery and more. And Howell says that evolution could continue as more health care providers pay attention to how one’s social environment affects overall well-being.

“While music doesn’t come up often in older adults’ visits with their usual care providers, perhaps it should,” poll director Jeffrey Kullgren, M.D., a primary care physician at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, said in a news release. “The power of music to connect us, improve mood and energy, or even ease pain (like 7 percent of respondents said it does for them), means it could be a powerful tool.”

The report’s authors note that the benefits of relaxation, stress relief, improvement in mood and greater energy “could be especially helpful for those facing physical and mental health challenges.” They write that “health system and aging services leaders should consider ways to expand opportunities for older people to engage with music to support their health and well-being.”

No instrument? No problem

Playing a musical instrument certainty has its advantages, especially when it comes to the brain, but you don’t need to pick up piano or take on the tuba to reap the health benefits of music.

According to a 2020 report from AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health, “any type of musical engagement,” be it singing, dancing, playing an instrument, composing music, or listening to music, “appears to hold benefits” for adults.

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While nearly all of poll respondents report at least one health-related perk from music, only 17 percent say they have played an instrument in the last year. More than half of older adults surveyed (56 percent) say they listen to music daily and 29 percent say they listen to music a few times a week.

One in 5 older adults (21 percent) reported singing daily, with women more likely to sing than men, and 25 percent said they sing a few times a week. And 4 in 5 older adults (80 percent) reported viewing musical performances on TV or the internet at least a few times in the past year. About 2 in 5 older adults (41 percent) attended live music performances.

People less likely to engage in music included those between the ages of 65 and 80, people in fair or poor physical health, people with a health condition that limits their daily activities, socially isolated individuals, and people with an annual household income under $60,000.  

“As a society, we need to think about the resources we put into music,” Howell says. “We talk about more accessible streets; we talk about getting rid of food deserts, so people have access to good diets. Maybe having access to music is part of this.”

For now, the take-home message from this research is to “do what gives you joy,” Howell says, “whether it’s listening to recorded music, listening to live music, or playing music.”

Music “is one of life’s greatest pleasures,” he adds. “And 98 percent of people say it makes them feel better. What more do you really want?”

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