A tune sung aloud – or silently to oneself – can help people with Parkinson’s set a stable rhythm to their gait while increasing walking speed, according to a team of neuroscience and physical therapy researchers.

In the study, participants aged 50 years and older, with and without Parkinson’s, walked while listening to either external music or internally generated tunes, or to no musical cues.

Researchers found that all participants modified their cadence and stride length to closely reflect musical tempo, but mental singing was most effective at reducing gait variability – or the natural pattern of steps, wrote the investigators, from Washington University School of Medicine.

The researchers also noted that walking was the least variable during mental singing when the tempos were at or above the participant’s preferred cadence.

“Matching movement to one’s own voice improves gait characteristics while reducing gait variability for older adults and people with Parkinson’s disease,” concluded corresponding author Gammon M. Earhart, PT, Ph.D., and colleagues. “Optimizing the use of internal cues to facilitate movement is an important step toward more effectively meeting the needs of people with gait disorders related to aging or neurological disease,” she added.”

The study was published in the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy.