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Singing is Great for Health

Singing is Great for Health


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Published by: penntara on Jul 08, 2008
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By a Emma Robertson, MSN Health columinst Last updated August 18 2006 Karaoke, choir practice or just wailing along

at the top of your lungs to Tina Turner might be one of the best self-medications to tune into. Research has found that singing to your heart’s content can deliver a number of health benefits, including lifting your mood and even combating snoring and Alzheimer’s disease.

How do you like it? On your own and in the bath or on the stage, as part of a group? On the grand scale of things, your preferred singing style doesn’t really matter – as long as you make the most of your voice. More and more studies are waxing lyrical about the special effects a good old sing-a-long can have on the health of the mind and body. Professor Graham Welch, chair of music education at the University of London, explains: “The body has an integrated system of three brain functions which work in parallel. When singing, the body is in a positive state and the endocrine system then releases endorphins – our happy hormones - as a response to a pleasurable activity. The release of these hormones works in tandem to benefit our immune and nervous system as well.” Many studies mirror this theory and have found singing can boost our immunity and wellbeing. The University of Frankfurt discovered increased levels of immunoglobulin A and cortisol after participants broke into Mozart’s Requiem. Meanwhile, Canterbury Christ Church University found members of a choral society reported feelings of improved lung function, breathing, better mood and posture and stress reduction as a result of their involvement in a choir. Singing could also be an essential weapon in our anti-ageing arsenal, says Professor Welch, who has studied musical medicine for 30 years. “The ability of our muscles to uptake oxygen decreases unless we exercise as we get old. Singing uses most of the

major muscle groups in the upper body and is a physical activity that requires us to take in a lot more air. This intake of oxygen in turn promotes the longevity of tissues in the body. Singing is a wonderful form of aerobic activity that you can do on your own or as part of a group and can increase our self-esteem and release tension as a result.” Sing yourself to sleep It sounds hard to believe, but strategic singing is even believed to reduce snoring. A study by the University of Exeter found 20 minutes of singing exercises over three months reduced the noisy symptoms in snorers. This breakthrough research is a non-invasive treatment option which works to increase muscle tone in the soft palate and upper throat – the problem areas behind this condition. At the moment, this technique is on trial-run at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital as an alternative solution to snorers and patients with obstructive sleep apnoea. Of sound mind Singing for the Brain is a weekly session formed by Chreanne Montgomery-Smith, a support and development officer for the Alzheimer’s Society in West Berkshire. She has experienced the profound effect singing can have as a key to unlock the brain and bring hope back in to the lives of Alzheimer’s sufferers. “Singing and music is preserved in different pathways from speech in the brain,” she says. “It is so deeply embedded that one participant, who couldn’t even remember her name, was still able to sing along to dozens of tunes, although she hadn’t heard them for years.” Alzheimer’s sufferers not only battle with the devastating blow of memory loss but the side-effects this condition also brings, such as depression. Because our memory for melody is so strong, Singing for the Brain is a technique people with Alzheimer’s can do easily and well. As a result, successful singing can bring confidence and self-esteem back on track. “Having the pleasant surprise of doing something positive when life is full of negatives is wonderful,” says Montgomery-Smith. “We have a singing teacher who takes the class through a series of vocal exercises. This ensures every muscle in the face and diaphragm is warmed-up properly and connects the brain to the muscles,” she explains. “We try to limit the use of song sheets so participants have to use their memory. I’ve seen people with dementia learn words and compositions to songs they have never heard before because they are doing it through repetition and in a relaxed, happy atmosphere.” A sweet sound for children Singing can bring magic to any age, as patients in Birmingham Children’s Hospital know. Last year, the hospital’s popular Singing Medicine project won a Children’s Care Award for its pioneering use of singing to boost the mental wellbeing of sick children and as a method to develop their personal and social skills.

“Our main aim is to make the children aware that there are more things in life to focus on than their treatment,” says the hospital’s arts manager, Janet Hetherington. “Singing Medicine is a chance to do something positive and tap in to areas which are often neglected. Singing simply allows the kids a chance to express their happiness and progress through non-medical terms.” While the success of the project hasn’t yet been evaluated under medical conditions, staff and families have noticed that the children appear increasingly relaxed during singing lessons. Physiotherapists have also noted increased movement in the youngsters and more compliance to treatment if it is combined with singing and music. Physiotherapists have also noted increased movement and more compliance to treatment if it is combined with singing and music. Get a mouthful of singing Singing is a straightforward activity for everyone. But Helen Furness, choral director for the weekly over-fifties singing group called Serendipity has a few tips to speed-dial singing’s healthy side. Her class, based in Midlothian, was set-up five years ago and includes paticipants whose ages range from 50 to 86 years old. “Singing is a fabulous workout and a complete body experience if you use the right technique,” she says. “Your whole body is connected whilst singing and depends on ‘plumb line’ posture. It’s also important to be aware of your entire body. For example, we use our chest and intercostal muscles as we breathe in and our stomach muscles as we breathe out. “Most people don’t know how to breathe properly and only use a portion of their lungs,” explains Furness. “I teach deep-breathing exercises which allows the class to make full use of their lungs and shows them how to control their breath. “Singing also brings a great amount of happiness. It is impossible to sing well with a long face because it affects your pitch. Keeping the positive momentum up is essential. If we smile as we sing then people soon feel the benefit in more ways than one.” If you have any thoughts on this article that you would like to share with us, click on the 'feedback' link at the bottom right-hand-side of this page and send us your comments.

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