Preaching to the choir: the Health Benefit of Singing

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Choir singing is a popular pastime. In 2013, 32.5 million adults in the United States, roughly 10 percent of the population, sang in choir, and England is home to more than 3000 active choral group. These singers often report an increased sense of well-being and camaraderie, but does this hobby actually result in better health? According to multiple scientific research, singing-especially with others-provides concrete benefits to heart and brain health.

A 2013 study at Sweden’s university of  Gothenburg examined the heart rate of 18 young people as they sang and hummed in unison. Heart rate variability (HRB) , the increased and decrease in heart rate, occurred simultaneously with subjects’ slowed breathing while singing. This combination of fluctuating heart rate and slowed breathing is called respiration sinus arrhythmia(RSA), and it has been proved to reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular disease (a prior findings independent of the 2013 study).  One interesting finding from this study is that the subjects’ heartbeats synchronized while they sang together. This may be a factor in choir singers’ reported feelings of happiness and bonding.

People feel a keen sense of bonding when they sing together. Singing stimulates the right temporal lobe of the brain and releases endorphins, which blunt pain and engender feelings of pleasure. Cortisol, a hormonal reactions to stress and the secretion of which the brain control, decrease after choir singing. Meanwhile, oxytocin, which the brain interprets as a feeling of emotional bonding, is increased. In a study, researchers surveyed 375 people who either sang alone, sang in a choir, or participate in an organized sports. Those who sang in choir reported the highest levels of happiness. Due to its positive side effects, therapists have used singing as a supplement for those dealing with depression and chronic pain. A study from an arts and health research center in Canterbury, England, followed the progress of patients diagonised with depression for a year after they joined the choir. Sixty percent of patients reported improved mental health at the end of that year, and some were no longer clinically depressed.

Scientists do not yet know all the benefits of choir singing , but the communal process that singing in a choir provides has many positive side effects. From the changes in heartbeat and breathing that result in a healthier heart, to the reduction of cortisol and production of endorphins that lower stress and increase happiness, choir singing fulfilled humans by letting them create art while being part of a group.

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