Reprinted from the LEGION MAGAZINE Nov-Dec 2009 edition:
Singing the Praises of Singing…
Whether you sing along or sing alone (perhaps in the shower), raising your voice is good for your health.
Singing is an aerobic activity, increasing oxygen in the bloodstream and exercising major muscle groups in the upper body. Most of the time, most of us take shallow breaths – but to belt out a tune, we need to breathe deeply to sustain those long notes, thereby processing more oxygen.
Singing had psychological benefits, too – British researchers discovered that an organ in the inner ear connected to a part of the brain responsible for registering pleasure responds to musical sound frequencies. When we listen to music, endorphins are released, reducing stress and giving us an emotional boost – even helping to lessen pain.
Singing boosts the immune system. Researchers at the University of Frankfurt in Germany studied choral singers before they sang or listened to music. They found levels of immunoglobulin A, which protects us against microbes, and the stress-reducing hormone hydrocortisone increased after singing, but did not increase when listening to music. And singing helps you live longer: a Swedish study of 12,675 people found that those who attend cultural events, including singing in a choir, live longer, and that was true despite variables like age, smoking, educational level and exercise.
Singing improves brain function, and has been credited with slowing down mental decline – Alzheimer’s patients no longer able to converse are often able to sing lyrics to songs from their past, and there’s a decrease in anxiety and depression in nursing home residents who take part in singing programs.
While any singing is a benefit, there is a bigger benefit when you sing as part of a group or for an audience. The health benefits accrue whether you have the voice of an angel or one more like a frog – so take up karaoke, join a choral group or just throw your head back and let out a joyful noise.
It’s a healthy thing.