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Sing yourself to health

The car, the shower, after a (medicinal) glass of wine … those moments where the urge to break into song overtake us don’t just lift our mood, they also help us stay healthy. Sally Bodkin-Allen highlights five reasons to sing more often

Singing comes naturally to preschoolers, but by the time we reach adulthood most of us have stopped the habit. Perhaps you were tactfully asked by your music teacher to “pull the curtains” instead of singing in the school show, or it was suggested that you mouth the words during the choir performance. Sadly, many people have experiences like these, which stop them singing in later life. Susan West, an associate professor at the Australian National University, calls this disorder “selective mutism for singing”. As adults, many of us adjust the way we sing in particular circumstances to reduce or mask the impact – some refuse to sing in any circumstances. This behaviour is so commonplace that it’s become the default social position for many adults, even though secretly they may want to sing. It’s a pity, because increasingly, research is showing singing to be widely achievable, good for both your mood and your health. Sceptical? Read on. 

1. Everyone can sing!

Even if you haven’t sung for years or you believe you can’t sing in tune, the chances are your singing is just fine. Studies in Canada, Australia and New Zealand have shown that most people who think they are ‘tone deaf’ really just lack confidence in singing – with support and practice, they can become self-assured singers. Remember, your vocal cords need exercise as well.

2. Singing is good for your health

There is a growing body of evidence that singing can bring physical, mental and emotional benefits. Singing offers benefits considered vital for wellbeing: a state of pleasure and a sense of meaningfulness or engagement in life. Researchers Stephen Clift and Grenville Hancox surveyed more than 1000 people who sang in choirs in Australia, England and Germany, and found the majority of participants found singing was beneficial for their wellbeing. Women in particular reported improvements in their wellbeing. Evidence shows group singing releases endorphins and oxytocin (the stress-relieving hormone). There are benefits to be had from any kind of singing, says Dunedin health psychologist Dr Nicola Swain. “Singing in private, such as in the car or shower, will improve your mood and have a positive impact on physical health.”

Most people who think they are ‘tone deaf’ really just lack confidence in singing – with support and practice, they can become self-assured singers 

3. Singing helps you feel connected

In evaluation of a community choir in Christchurch carried out by Community and Public Health found the choir was important because of the opportunities for social contact it gave members. Sharing experiences in the choir led to an increase in networks and friendships, and promoted coping and resilience in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

4. The more singing, the better 

Singing regularly won’t just improve your tone and voice. Regular singers, particularly group singers, were found to have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in a 2004 study, compared to those simply listening to choral music. The quality of the singing doesn’t matter either. A US study in 2005 showed the beneficial effects of singing were the same, even if the sound wasn’t quite note-perfect.

5. It’s great exercise

According to charity Heart Research UK, singing is an aerobic activity that has the same physical benefits as other cardiovascular-rich exercises. “Singing increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups, even when sitting,” says Professor Graham Welch, chair of music education at the University of London. A joint study by Harvard and Yale showed choral singing increased the life expectancy of the population of New Haven, Connecticut due to the positive effect it had on heart health and mental state. “It’s a great way to keep in shape, because you are exercising your lungs and heart,” says leading vocal coach and singer Helen Astrid.

Great exercise, great for making friends, great for relieving stress – and you don’t even have to be good at it. Why don’t we all sing more often?

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