The science behind the playlists: How music selection impacts senior adult fitness

Holly Jones, wellness coordinator at Buckner Villas, knows better than to forget her iPod for work each morning.

Jones’ well-loved device carries the more than 20 playlists she’s crafted for fitness classes, and these tunes have come to set the tone for the entire wellness center at the Austin senior living community. Her repertoire includes lineups for New Year's, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and Thanksgiving, not to mention the five different Christmas playlists she rotates during the holiday season.

“I spend hours creating just the right playlist and cheoreography for each class,” Jones said, “because when it comes to senior adult fitness, music is as much of an important tool as handheld weights and resistance bands.”

What makes music such a crucial component to senior adult fitness performance? With the right song selection, a mundane movement transforms into a physical, mental, emotional—and even spiritual—wellness exercise.

1. Music creates belonging.

When senior adults hear music they can relate to, they know they belong not as guests or as patrons, but as contributing members of the community whose voices, opinions and life experiences matter.

In the same way millennials connect to Beyoncé and Bieber, senior adults connect to Elvis and The Andrews Sisters. And like décor and dessert choices, thoughtful music selection is one more key ingredient to making a senior living community home for each resident.

2. Music spurs movement.

Energy feeds off energy, so lively music in the wellness center automatically creates a positive vibe with each resident, whether they’re stopping in for a personal workout, a group fitness class or just to say hello.

Music also makes workouts more fun and interactive, increasing the likelihood that residents will come back to the wellness center for their workouts. Jones puts extra thought into the choreography for each song, making sure the cadence of the tune syncs with the energy of the movement. She'll even pass out themed prizes to make the class as interactive as possible.

Since consistency is key to any fitness program, this extra incentive to get moving especially helps senior adults who often battle the temptation to stay sedentary for fear of falling.

3. Music increases brain activity.

Songs we connect with provide a sense of familiarity, comfort and excitement. For senior adults, these songs—each with their own tune, rhythm and beat—resonate in a way that critically exercises their memories as well as their bodies.

“One of my favorite things is watching residents start toe tapping, singing along and shaking their hips when a song they love comes up on our playlist,” Jones said. “The goal of the playlist is to put songs together that will engage senior adults both emotionally and physically.”


Wondering what songs make up the perfect playlist? Here's a sample of Jones’ favorites.

Easter:

  • “Easter Parade” by Irving Berlin

  • “Love Lifted Me” by The Forester Sisters

  • “Crying in the Chapel” by Elvis Presley

St. Patrick’s Day:

  • “I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover” by Flip and Fly

  • “Luck of the Irish” by Brandon Fiechter

  • “The Rainbow Connection” by Sarah McLachlan

Valentine’s Day:

  • “Oh-Oh, I’m Falling in Love Again” by Jimmy Rodgers

  • “Forever and Ever Amen” by Randy Travis

  • “Chapel of Love” by The Dixie Cups

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