Were you told as a kid you have talent for carrying a tune? Or were you one of those who were told to mouth the words so others wouldn’t be thrown off key? According to research from the University of Gothenberg in Sweden, it doesn’t matter how well you sing. Just get out there and belt it out, preferably with others, to benefit your health.
Singing has been shown to have many positive effects on the body. Researchers have found that the elements of song structure, respiration and heart rate are all connected. The act of singing imposes a calm and regular breathing pattern in your body, not unlike that of doing yoga. This is very beneficial to cardiovascular function. The oxygen in the blood gets increased, causing the brain to release beneficial hormones like oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the ‘love’ hormone for its anti-depressant, stress-relieving properties. Oxytocin also enhances the pleasure response in the body.
Mary Feinsinger is the conductor for the Broadway at the 92 Y Chorus in New York City and has a master’s degree in voice from The Juilliard School. She maintains that choral or unison singing has even more benefits and pleasures than solo singing because “just one person singing is pleasure, but when you put people together, the synergy is greater than the sum of the parts.” She believes this is due to the human biological (anthropomorphic) imperative of the collective experience. Research from the Swedish study showed when students engaged in choral singing, their heartbeats gradually synchronized, eventually beating as one with the song's tempo as a guide.
Eiren Graver is a choral leader as well as biodynamic farmer and she believes the two activities complement each other. Biodynamic farming taps into subtle vibrations in nature which, when harnessed, can create healthful food crops; choral singing leads people to synchronize themselves with vibrations going on all around them, bringing about a greatly magnified intentional sound. She’s on a personal mission to help people overcome their fear of singing off-key. Graver pronounces singing to be “something so universal, that it doesn’t matter if you can’t create a career out of it, you should be able to sing and enjoy it simply because the human voice is able to make sounds.” Perhaps that’s why a recent study from Oxford Brookes University in England asked people to rank choral singing against team sports and solo singing and found people perceived their choirs to be the most meaningful social experience.
Rigorous scientific study is now underway to examine the beneficial effects of choral singing for the elderly. Dr. Julene Johnson, a cognitive neuroscientist and professor at the Institute for Health & Aging at the University of California San Francisco’s School of Nursing is leading this research with a five-year multimillion dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health. A previous study of 166 elderly people in Washington, D.C., showed seniors who participated in community arts programs were found to enjoy better overall health, experiencing fewer doctors’ visits, medication usage, falls, and feelings of loneliness. This could have major implications on the cost of health care for the elderly, as the number of people in the United States over 65 is expected to triple by mid-century. Johnson is studying choirs because they’re easy to join and require no special skill set.
To connect with a choral group in your community, contact local community centers, religious institutions or schools. Check community bulletin boards and ask around. You may even find some friends who have secretly been singing in the shower for years!
To Your Health!
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