Have you ever listened to baby or toddler singing, soothing and calming herself in the process? Many of us sing gently to our children for the same reasons, or after a tough day, belt out a fun rendition of Ike and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” in the shower or at karaoke night. Some even become Beyoncé in the car, oblivious to the fact that everyone can see them while they’re sitting at those red lights! For those with a little more courage and a lot more pitch, the church choir or school chorus are glorious ways to raise their mellifluous voices in song for all to hear.
Singing is an almost universal pastime, but did you know that, no matter where or when it is done, it can also contribute to good health simply by raising spirits and self-esteem? Not only does it promote artistic expression, and provide friendship and community when we participate in groups, but singing also releases stress and increases lung capacity and cardiovascular health (more oxygen to the brain/increased alertness). By virtue of the natural processes used to croon, singing also promotes circulation and improves abdominal and intercostal muscles. In fact some patients surveyed even said they believe singing helped them mentally and physically recuperate from a heart attack, while others credited managing chronic pain to frequent participation in activities that involved singing. In the often intangible world of mental health, some studies attribute routinely engaging in singing as a panacea (well almost!) for depression, with a noted decrease in the need for mood-altering antidepressants. In short, there’s virtually no downside to expressing ourselves through singing.
According to the U.S. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, scientists at Germany’s University of Frankfurt tested the blood of choir members just before and an hour after rehearsing. The study found that concentrations of both immunoglobulin A–an antibody that plays a key role in immunity, and hydrocortisone–an anti-stress hormone, were elevated significantly during rehearsal. Conclusions also drawn from this study found that in addition to a stronger immune system, singers’ moods were also improved. But you don’t have to tell that to the U.S.’s award-winning “Young at Heart” or Britain’s “The Zimmers,” both comprised of dozens of senior citizens who sing largely pop and rock tunes, performing and touring well into their 80s and 90s–proof that singing keeps them young, vital, and involved: the secret to long, healthy lives.
So how can you begin to make singing an integral part of your life–for joy and health? It’s never too early–or too late–to flaunt the pipes, so to speak (reportedly some members of “Young at Heart” had never set foot on a stage until age 80). And Beyoncé aside, being a trained singer, or even a good one, has little to do with reaping the benefits of making a joyful noise.
If you attend school (or even just take a class now and then), many learning institutions have their own music programs and choruses with which you may become involved. If you belong to a religious organization, often a choir comes with the territory, with many only too happy to accept new members. Community theater groups also put on musicals from time to time, and whether or not you audition for the lead, a spot in the chorus will provide you with weeks of rehearsals and ample opportunity to loosen that larynx.
If you want to take it a step further, singing lessons are a good way to polish the pipes. Lessons involve hours and hours of practice (here come the endorphins!), same as with a musical instrument, which in this case is your vocal chords. Your instructor may also be able to refer you to various vocal groups, choruses, and choirs in your region that are looking for members. Or, just like a book club, why not organize your own singing club with like-minded members of your community. Assign a few songs to learn for each gathering and just have fun.
According to one musical source, with all it has to offer, singing is ultimately a great de-stressor as it’s difficult to sing and worry at the same time.