Not only is singing a great way to raise money for the local community, research shows that it's also good for you.
Professor Graham Welch, Chair of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, has studied the developmental and medical aspects of singing for 30 years. He found that the health benefits of singing are both physical and psychological. “Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting. Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being. Psychological benefits are also evident when people sing together as well as alone because of the increased sense of community, belonging and shared endeavour."
Regular exercising of the vocal cords can even prolong life, according to research done by leading vocal coach and singer Helen Astrid, from The Helen Astrid Singing Academy in London. "It’s a great way to keep in shape because you are exercising your lungs and heart. Not only that, your body produces ‘feel good’ hormones called endorphins, which rush around your body when you sing. It’s exactly the same when you eat a bar of chocolate. The good news with singing is that you don’t gain any calories!"
Singing even helps you live longer according to the findings of a joint Harvard and Yale study which showed that choral singing increased the life expectancy of the population of New Haven, Connecticut. The report concluded that this was because singing promoted both a healthy heart and an enhanced mental state. Another study at the University of California has reported higher levels of immune system proteins in the saliva of choristers after performing a complex Beethoven masterwork.
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, found that choristers’ heartbeats synchronise when they sing together, bringing about a calming effect that is as beneficial to our health as yoga. The scientists asked a group of teenagers to perform three choral exercises – humming, singing a hymn and chanting – and monitored their heart rhythms during each. They showed that singing has a dramatic effect on heart rate variability, which is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. “
Song is a form of regular, controlled breathing, since breathing out occurs on the song phrases and inhaling takes place between these,” says Dr Björn Vickhoff, who led the study. “It gives you pretty much the same effect as yoga breathing. It helps you relax, and there are indications that it does provide a heart benefit.”
Bjorn Vickhoff, who led a study at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden into music and wellbeing, also believes that singing has positive effects on your health. The study showed how musical structure influenced the heart rate of choir members. “Singing is good for your health. Our research indicates that it may even be good for your heart."
Over the years, scientists have found that crooning has a number of health benefits. The Gothenburg researchers proved that with singing we can train our lungs to breathe better; similarly, a study at Cardiff University in 2012 found that lung cancer patients who sang in a choir had a greater expiratory capacity than those who didn’t. Singing has also been shown to boost our immune system, reduce stress levels and, according to a report published in the Journal of Music Therapy in 2004, help patients cope with chronic pain. A joint study by Harvard and Yale Universities in 2008 went one step further, claiming that choral singing in a Connecticut town had increased residents’ life expectancy. “Singing delivers a host of physical and emotional benefits, including increased aerobic exercise, improved breathing, posture, mindset, confidence and self-esteem,” says Jeremy Hywel Williams, who leads the Llanelli Choral Society in Wales. “While singing alone is good, singing with others can be even better.”
Choral singing has been used as music therapy in hospitals, care homes and hospices for decades. “Singing enables people with dementia to access memories and joy in times when communication is faltering,” says Sarah Teagle, co-founder of the Forget-Me-Not chorus, a charity for dementia sufferers.
The science doesn’t lie: singing really is better for your health than yoga. And, in the words of Ella Fitzgerald, “the only thing better than singing – is more singing”.