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Why we should sing

Vanessa Ilicic, HealthLogix Reporter

Whether in the shower, car or a choir, it seems there are good health reasons to sing – regardless of skill.
In fact, singing can positively impact the vocalist physically and emotionally, according to research. And, the range of benefits can increase if it’s performed in a group.
So, let’s take a closer look at the reasons for breaking into song ...

Physical benefits

Those who’ve ever doubted the physical demands of singing need only observe a professional on stage. The sweaty brow of an opera star, for example, may not be due to hot lights or stage nerves, but rather the act of singing itself. “Singing is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the bloodstream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting,” says Professor Graham Welch, Chair of Music Education at the University of London’s Institute of Education.

Research suggests it’s the physical activities involved in singing, namely breathing exercises and voice control, which are responsible for the physical health benefits.
“These activities can positively affect breathing capacity, muscle tension and posture, and reduce respiratory symptoms,” according to a literature review published and funded by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (Vic Health), Australia, in 2011.

And singers needn’t be professional to benefit.
For instance, the activity can help older, non-professional singers better control their breathing during other exercise, and reduce symptoms in those with their breathing during other exercise, and reduce symptoms in those with general bodily aches and pains, based on the review by Victoria University.

Psychological benefits

Interestingly, some of the physical changes that occur when singing can have psychological benefits.
Consider, for example, hormonal changes. The Vic Health review states that singing can lead to reduced levels of a hormone associated with emotional stress, plus increases in others associated with positive or relaxing experiences or feelings of wellbeing.
So powerful are singing’s potential psychological benefits that it’s sometimes used therapeutically.
“Singing combined with other therapeutic techniques has been shown to assist the recovery process of various psychological and physiological health problems across different age groups”, from infants with cystic fibrosis to people with dementia, for example, according to the review.
Among the cited benefits are greater comfort and improved mood, in particular, reduced anxiety, depression and anger, and increased joy, calmness and inner peace.
And it seems that list can grow if singing with others.
For example, the review points to a body of research that shows group singing can lead to a sense of accomplishment, increased self-confidence, empowerment and interpersonal skills, reduced feelings of social isolation and expanded social networks.
Although being a good singer can add to listeners’ pleasure, it mightn’t be necessary to reap the health rewards. According to a study published in Psychology of Music back in 2005, group singing “can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality”.
Despite the many potential health benefits of singing alone or with others, remember it’s not a cure-all.
Then again, if it’s appropriate in your context, there’s probably little harm in bringing your favourite song to life the next time you feel so inclined.