Scientists have shown that not only does singing in a choir make you feel good, it’s got health benefits, too. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, found that choristers’ heartbeats synchronise when they sing together, bringing about a calming effect that is as beneficial to our health as yoga. The scientists asked a group of teenagers to perform three choral exercises – humming, singing a hymn and chanting – and monitored their heart rhythms during each. They showed that singing has a dramatic effect on heart rate variability, which is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.
“Song is a form of regular, controlled breathing, since breathing out occurs on the song phrases and inhaling takes place between these,” says Dr Björn Vickhoff, who led the study. “It gives you pretty much the same effect as yoga breathing. It helps you relax, and there are indications that it does provide a heart benefit.”
When choir members sing together their heartbeats become synchronised, growing faster and slower at the same time as they breathe in and out in unison, researchers found.
The study could explain why choral singing is said to be good for your health, because reducing the variability of your heart rate is likely to be good for your well-being, they said.
It also suggests that singing can enhance the spirit of cooperation in a group because it helps regulate activity in the vagus nerve which is linked to emotions and communication with others, according to the study published in the Frontiers in Neuroscience journal.
Professor Graham Welch, Chair of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, has studied developmental and medical aspects of singing for 30 years and he says the health benefits of singing are both physical and psychological. “Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting. Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being. Psychological benefits are also evident when people sing together as well as alone because of the increased sense of community, belonging and shared endeavour.”
Regular exercising of the vocal cords can even prolong life, according to research done by leading vocal coach and singer Helen Astrid, from The Helen Astrid Singing Academy in London. “It’s a great way to keep in shape because you are exercising your lungs and heart. Not only that, your body produces ‘feel good’ hormones called endorphins, which rush around your body when you sing. It’s exactly the same when you eat a bar of chocolate. The good news with singing is that you don’t gain any calories!
Singing even helps you live longer according to the findings of a joint Harvard and Yale study which showed that choral singing increased the life expectancy of the population of New Haven, Connecticut. The report concluded that this was because singing promoted both a healthy heart and an enhanced mental state. Another study at the University of California has reported higher levels of immune system proteins in the saliva of choristers after performing a complex Beethoven masterwork.