Singing for the health of it

by Ruth Griffiths

Singing in the choir is a very important part of my life. It’s energizing. It’s relaxing. It helps me to feel like I’m contributing to something bigger than myself. It’s fun.

While I’m working around the house I hum to myself. I sing in the car. I dance to the radio in the kitchen. But singing with other people is quite different than singing by myself. So every Thursday evening, for as long as I can remember, I head out to choir practice. It’s an important part of my life.

You can lose yourself in a choir. It’s not that you need to hide your vocal weaknesses (although that can be good too). But singing with a group helps you to feel less self-conscious. It helps you to stretch yourself musically.

I was fortunate to sing with a mass choir at Knox United in Saskatoon. The 300 voices and the massive organ shook that venerable Spadina Avenue church. When we hit the final fortissimo, the stained glass windows shook. It was fabulous.

A choir is greater than the sum of its parts. Choral singing allows us to combine our less than perfect voices to create an energy — a spirit —that lifts us beyond ourselves.

Psychologist Nick Stewart of Bath University conducted a survey that showed that people who participate in a choir enjoy a greater feeling of togetherness. The benefits of singing together are similar to the benefits of playing team sports.

Research has also shown that the hearts of choir members beat in unison. The breathing and heart rate are directly affected by the speed and pulse of the music. Reducing the variability of your heart rate has a positive impact on your health. It was also suggested that the ability of choral singing to regulate a nerve responsible for emotions and communication with others strengthens the feeling of cooperation.

Several studies have shown the mental health benefits of singing. Singing in a choir appeared to relieve symptoms of depression. Singing boosts oxytocin levels, which help control stress and anxiety.

Surprisingly, singing has a positive effect on lung disease. Cardiff University researchers showed that lung cancer patients engaged in choral singing had greater expiratory capacity than people who did not. Improve feeling of social wellbeing

Studies show that singing may help you live longer. Even if you won’t win any prizes for singing by yourself, you can still benefit from singing with others. The prize you win might be a longer, healthier and happier life.