You may be asking yourself, how can singing help health and wellbeing? Well, the evidence is overwhelming...
There's a wealth of research that proves the benefits of singing on health and wellbeing across the lifespan. One of the Sing Up Foundation's goals through our work is to the expand upon the knowledge base for studies specifically involving young people. Below, we've highlighted a few of the benefits of singing in relation to overall health and wellbeing which can be categorised into four main areas - psychological, social, physiological and behavioural.
There are many more studies available and more research is being published all the time. Keep an eye on our site where we will aim to highlight relevant and interesting developments in the area.
Singing lowers cortisol and relieves stress and tension. Studies have shown that when people sing, endorphins and oxytocin are released by the brain which in turn lowers stress and anxiety levels. Oxytocin (a natural hormone produced in the hypothalamus) also enhances feelings of trust and bonding which also explains the reports that singing also improves depression and feelings of loneliness.
Singing boosts confidence. The release of endorphins gives singers a positive feeling and an energy boost. The act of learning a new skill, improving and being part of a group also helps to influence your confidence and self-esteem.
Singing is a mindful activity. So much is going on in your body and mind when you sing that when you are singing you are fully focused on it. This allows you to ‘turn off’ your stream of consciousness and live completely in the moment, distracting your mind from negative thoughts, focusing on the sound, the action, the breathing, the feeling and the pleasure of song. Mindfulness has been shown to have many benefits, including reducing stress and increasing focus.
Singing improves social bonding and social cohesion. Singing is an intimate activity and when you share it with others, it helps strengthen bonds. Research has shown that group singing (no matter the quality of the results) is an excellent icebreaker and has even been shown to synchronise the heartbeats of those people singing together. When people have mental illness, creating and sustaining social bonds is critical in combatting loneliness and depression.
Singing together creates a strong sense of community and social inclusion. Singing with others enhances the possibilities of empathic relationships and generates a positive group identity. Social inclusion is a key part of recovery for people with mental health needs. Feeling connected to others is not only important in terms of having a social and emotional support system where you feel loved, esteemed and valued, it also encourages healthier behaviour patterns and has a positive influence on overall physical health.
Singing helps you believe in yourself, increasing self-efficacy. Through the journey of learning a new skill, engaging with others and performing (even if it’s just within the confines of the group itself), you begin to believe in yourself more and in your power to succeed having long-term impacts in other aspects of your life. Research with The Choir With No Name, a homelessness charity, found 60% of participants in a singing group went on to volunteer, get a job or move in to more stable accommodation.
Singing provides an unthreatening way to express emotions. Studies have shown that singing can also be a powerful tool in emotion-focused coping. Instead of eliminating stressful situations from your life (which isn't always possible), emotion-focused coping is a way of managing stress with techniques that help you to become less emotionally reactive to stress.
Singing strengthens the immune system. Immediately after singing, studies have shown that singers had higher levels of the protein Immunoglobulin A, an antibody known to benefit the immune function of mucous membranes. High levels of stress and depression (often found in those with mental illness) have been found to impact negatively upon your immune system by activating your body’s fight of flight mechanism, raising your heart rate, interfering with your sleep and diminishing your physical health. Research has also shown that the increased airflow in your lungs during singing also lessens the likelihood of bacteria flourishing in your upper respiratory tract.
Singing improves breathing. When you learn to sing, you learn to breathe well, use your diaphragm and increase your oxygen intake and lung capacity. According to research, this improved breathing and knowledge of the breath also helps people deal with anxiety and panic attacks.
Singing is an aerobic activity and increases overall health. It exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, helping to improve the efficiency of your cardiovascular system and encourages you to take more oxygen into your body, leading to increased alertness.
Singing stimulates the vagus nerve. Connected to the vocal cords and the back of the throat, the vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body, connecting the brain to various organs. A key part of the parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve influences breathing, digestion and heart rate among other things. A 2010 study showed that the more you increase your vagal tone the more your physical and mental health improve and the faster you can relax after stress.
Singing helps with pain. In studies conducted with people suffering chronic pain, singing has been shown to alleviate the pain symptoms for not just immediately afterward but for up to 6 months later. The studies have also shown that singing could have a real impact on the amount of pain relief medication used by participants. This is particularly interesting given the long-term negative side effects that pain medication can have on the body and also the savings that this could mean for the NHS.
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