Here’s how crooning can not only make you happy, but can also boost your health…
Driving to work feeling tired and grumpy, you flick on the radio and hear your favourite song. Of course, you can’t resist joining in. Belting out the words, you suddenly feel energised and ready to face the day.
It’s no secret that music can lift spirits. But did you know that singing can improve your general health?
Incredibly, it has been found to help sufferers of chronic breathing conditions, postnatal depression and dementia.
Simply singing in the shower or while doing the dishes releases feel-good endorphins, eases muscle tension and improves your posture as your chest cavity expands and your shoulders and back align.
Breathing techniques used in singing can increase lung capacity, helping those with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) manage their symptoms.
The British Lung Foundation runs specialist singing groups, with many attendees saying that regular singing reduces shortness of breath.
Joining a choir or singing group could also boost your immune system. In a survey of choir singers, researchers at the University of Frankfurt found that antibodies in the singers’ bloodstreams were mostly significantly higher after a rehearsal of Mozart’s Requiem.
Belting out a tune can boost mental alertness, concentration and memory, as improved blood circulation pumps more oxygen to the brain.
Group singing sessions can ease anxiety and depression too, according to a recent study.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia found that members of a Norfolk community group, Sing Your Heart Out, maintained or improved their mental health, with the combination of singing and socialising
boosting their wellbeing and self-confidence.
‘Participants called the initiative a “life saver” and said that it “saved their sanity”,’ says lead researcher Professor Tom Shakespeare.
Here’s how different age groups can feel the benefits of song…
Singing ‘Twinkle, twinkle…’ to your little bundle is a parenting rite of passage. But introducing kids to songs at an early age can improve their language skills.
Consultant in neuro-developmental education Sally Goddard Blythe, of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology, says that singing traditional lullabies and nursery rhymes to babies before they learn to speak is ‘an essential precursor to later educational success and emotional wellbeing’.
‘Song is a special type of speech,’ she explains. ‘Lullabies, songs and rhymes of every culture carry the signature melodies and inflections of a mother tongue, preparing a child’s ear, voice and brain for language.’
Isolation is thought to increase the risk of postnatal depression (PND), which affects one in nine new mums. Now experts say group singing sessions may help mums overcome PND symptoms.
In a recent study, researchers divided 134 mums into three groups. While one group received standard postnatal care, the second joined play workshops and the final group received 10 weeks of singing workshops.
The study found that the singing group mums reported a quicker improvement in their mental health.
‘Postnatal depression is debilitating for mothers and their families, yet our research indicates that for some women, singing with their baby could help to speed up recovery at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives,’ says Dr Rosie Perkins from the Centre for Performance Science, which conducted the research.
Musician and mum-of-three Jane Olson, who runs Nottinghamshire parent choir, Mi & Bambini, teaches members anything from Russian folk songs to David Bowie tunes, as their little ones play at their feet.
She says: ‘The social network for new mums can seem bleak, but a choir gives you the opportunity to come to a group with a joint focus.
‘Mums feel energised and uplifted after a session and we’re also tackling the “baby-brain” issue, improving memory by learning songs by rote.’
While there’s no evidence that singing can prevent dementia, experts believe that memory-dependent activities, such as singing, can help delay onset of some age-related cognitive issues.
The Alzheimer’s Society runs a programme, ‘Singing for the brain’, for dementia patients and their carers.
According to a study, participants found that it helped them accept and cope with dementia.
‘Many people with dementia can enjoy music, even when their language skills are not as strong as they once were,’ explains Kathryn Smith, Director of Operations at The Alzheimer’s Society.
‘Singing is an excellent way for people with dementia to communicate, socialise and feel positive about themselves. The power of music is so strong that it can help people with dementia unlock otherwise hard to recall memories due to the brain’s preserved memory for music and song.’
Edited by Louise Baty
Find a singing group near you
Ask your local library about free baby rhyme time sessions. Many toddler groups also offer singing sessions.
Contact the relevant charity to find a singing group to help you cope with particular health issues. The British Lung Foundation (blf.org.uk) and Alzheimer’s Society (alzheimers.org.uk) run singing support groups, while the charity Goldies, run by renowned choir leader Grenville Jones, supports isolated older people (golden-oldies.org.uk).
The organisation Big Big Sing offers a list of UK choirs and singing groups so you can pinpoint one nearby which meets your needs (bigbigsing.org).