When you hear about the benefits of singing, it may take you back to your grade-school choir days. Perhaps you felt excited to learn a new song, but hesitant to belt it out in front of a crowd. Singing may also elicit nostalgic feelings of when you would sing your cranky infant to sleep, or hum a nursery tune in the car.
Although there is something calming about the association between singing and childhood, science is showing that the benefits of singing stretch far beyond those short, formative years.
If you look at trends in ancient history, singing was a common thread that was woven into celebrations, religious congregations, and even times of grief and sorrow. People of all ages gathered together as one, and customs and traditions were created and recorded through song.
Recent research shows that singing has physical and emotional benefits for people of all ages, especially for those who suffer from chronic stress, depression and anxiety.
Singing for Stress Reduction
For decades, people have been using music as a way to relax and calm the mind. The same can be said for singing, and the benefits of singing reach far beyond that fleeting feeling of relaxation.
One study looked at the mental effects of singing on men and women 60 years and older. Researchers used blood, saliva, and mood questionnaires to test the efficacy of singing on the brain. Saliva tests were used to measure the level of cortisol in the body prior to singing, and after singing.
Results showed that scores on the Visual Analog Scale (a scale that assessed levels of relaxation, comfort, and light-heartedness) increased among the participants. Additionally, levels of cortisol, better known as the stress hormone, appeared to decrease in participants after they were instructed to sing. It can be inferred that singing decreased cortisol levels in participants, in turn helping them to feel lighter, calmer and more relaxed.
According to Medical News Today, several other studies also suggest that the benefits of singing are associated with stress reduction.
In one case study in particular, a 76-year-old woman was experiencing preoperative hypertension and was unresponsive to drug-based interventions. The woman decided to try to reap the benefits of singing, something that in the past, helped to promote relaxation before bed. After singing several songs, her blood pressure dropped dramatically and she was cleared for surgery the following morning.
Singing for Pleasure
In a recent article, they explained how a vestigial part of the ear plays a large role in creating that uplifting feeling.
This part of the inner ear, known as the sacculus, is connected to the brain. The sacculus is only stimulated when people sing or hear music above 90 decibels. When the sacculus is stimulated through song, it fires neurons to the part of the brain that is responsible for pleasurable feelings.
Other studies continue to show that endorphins are also released when you sing. Endorphins are responsible for the happy, “feel-good” sensation that arises in your body when you experience a pleasurable event.
Oxytocin is another hormone that gets secreted through song. This important hormone is one that is best known for the postpartum period, when moms connect with their newborn babies. Oxytocin helps to cultivate feelings of trust and bonding when it is secreted in the body, which is another one of the emotional benefits of singing.
Physical Benefits of Singing
The benefits of singing also reach beyond the mental and emotional realm.
Another study showed a positive correlation between singing and increased immunity. In this particular study, researchers tested the saliva of a handful of cancer patients before and after singing. After an hour of choir singing, the saliva test showed higher levels of immune system markers called cytokines. Although the study is not yet complete, it shows promising results about the benefits of singing on the human immune system.
Singing has also been shown to improve cardiovascular function in some people. According to Harvard Health, people who have a high heart rate variability (HRV) may have greater cardiovascular fitness and be more resilient to stress.
In one study, researchers decided to focus on the heart rate variability of the participants. Both men and women were instructed to sing in a mantra and to breathe slowly between phrases. Heart rate variability was measured before, during and after singing.
Data from the study shows that HRV increased during singing. Additionally, because singing demands a slower than normal respiration, anecdotal data from the study shows that there was a soothing effect among participants.
The research from this study also showed that singing as a group can have a biologically soothing effect. When participants were instructed to sing in unison, their heart rates started to sync together, helping them to feel connected as they sang.
Singing Creates Connection
By fostering feelings of connectedness, the benefits of singing go far beyond personal satisfaction.
Long ago, tribes would create chants and songs to bind people together. Our ancestors likely grew up singing and telling stories, perhaps unknowingly forming bonds and connections to others through these acts.
One interesting study showed that singing can enhance social bonding between strangers. By looking at past trends, researchers pointed out that the act of singing may have evolved as a mechanism of social cohesion among tribes and other groups of people. The benefits of singing helped people to feel connected as one.
Feeling connected to others and a part of a group or a community also helps to combat loneliness. By reducing feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety also decrease. The domino effect has a lasting impact.
Whether you choose to use it as a stress reliever or a means of connecting to others, the benefits of singing are bound to help in one way or another. We now know that you do not need to travel back to your grade school years to reap the benefits that singing has to offer, and this simple, free act can have a positive impact on your physical and emotional well-being.
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