Music has long been acknowledged for its healing qualities. Past studies have shown that individuals with moderate to severe dementia saw a significant boost in their cognitive abilities after singing their favorite songs. Now, a new study suggests that certain types of music, religious and gospel, are able to increase the mental health of older Christians. The study, published online in The Gerontologist, has linked listening to religious music to a decrease in anxiety about death and increase in life satisfaction, self-esteem, and sense of control over their lives in older individuals. These results are the same no matter the race, gender, or socio-economic status of the individuals.

The study consisted of either black, white, or non-institutionalized, English speaking participants who were at least 65 years old. The participants were currently practicing Christianity, identified as Christian, or did not affiliate with any faith at any point in their lives. Responses were taken from 1,024 individuals. Participants were asked how often they listened to both religious music and gospel music on a scale ranging from “never” to “several times a day.” The researchers also measured how strongly the participants responded to a series of statements. These included: “I find it hard to face up to the fact that I will die,” “These are the best years of my life,” “I take a positive attitude towards myself,” and “I have a lot of influence over most things that happen in my life.”

Results found that the frequency of listening to religious music was associated with decreases in fears surrounding death, and increases in attitudes toward life, self-worth, and feelings of control. In particular, the frequency of listening to gospel music was associated with a decrease in death anxiety and increase in a sense of control.

Religion is an important socio-emotional resource that has been linked with a positive mental health in older Americans. The results from this study show that listening to religious music can also promote psychological well-being in later life. In a recent press release, the study’s researchers explained how they hoped that the results would help raise awareness of the positive effects religious music and perhaps promote its use as a tool to help mental health in old age.

A poll taken by Gallup Well-Being found that religious Americans tended to have higher wellbeing than their non-religious counterparts, regardless of age. According to The Huffington Post, Jews, Mormans, Muslims, and Catholics have the highest wellbeing in America. Those with no religious identity had the lowest overall wellbeing. Respondents were asked questions about their overall quality of life, emotional health, physical health, job satisfaction, and healthy behavior habits, among other questions. While you enjoy your Easter and Passover celebrations this week, know that you’re not only helping your spiritual health, but your mental health as well!

Source: Bradshaw M, Ellison CG, Fang Q, Mueller C. Listening to Religious Music and Mental Health in Later Life. The Gerontologist. 2014