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10/17/2013 05:10 pm ET Updated Oct 20, 2013

Study To Determine Effects Of Singing In Choirs On Seniors

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What might motivate researchers to solicit senior singers for a dozen choirs around San Francisco?

Backed by a $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the University of California, San Francisco is launching a four-year study it hopes will provide the scientific evidence needed to really sing the praises of such arts programs for seniors.

“The goal is to provide scientific-based evidence that community arts programs can be used to promote health," UCSF principal investigator Julene Johnson said. "Everyone says ‘Yes, of course they must be good for us,’ but we don’t have enough evidence yet.”

Dubbed Community of Voices, the study will evaluate how participation in these choirs influences cognition, mobility and overall well-being, from mood, loneliness and memory to strength and balance.

In total, 400 seniors will participate in weekly, 90-minute singing sessions for one year. Qualifying choir members must be at least 60 years old and require no prior choral experience. In exchange for three study interviews, every participant will be paid $105 and will be invited to perform in public.

The first has already formed at the Mission Neighborhood Center, and whether the study proves health benefits or not, participants are excited to be involved.

"This choir is good for me -- my self-esteem is going up because I'm not in my house thinking my life has no value," said Carlos Castro, 62, to the San Francisco Chronicle. Due to a chronic injury, Castro recently had to give up his career as a massage therapist.

As the number of seniors grows rapidly around the world, so does the pressure to pinpoint which lifestyles choices and activities will promote healthy aging.

One of the only other studies of senior choir participation found that participants reported better health, had fewer doctor visits and falls and added more activities to their routine when compared to seniors who did not participate in a choir.

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