He who sings frightens away his ills.
Miguel de Cervantes 1547 – 1616
‘The only thing better than singing is more singing,” Ella Fitzgerald
Each Ridiculously Simple Step To Transform Your Health (and Life) is written with the intention that it will help you to become enrolled in the idea of doing simple things that will improve your general health and wellbeing. For those of us who love the Festive Season, there are now even more reasons to enjoy it, knowing that the singing of Christmas Carols is improving your health and wellbeing. It seems our friend Miguel de Cervantes knew this back in the sixteenth century and modern science is just beginning to recognise it.
Current research available on the health benefits associated with singing identifies some key physical benefits. It has been established that singing exercises major muscle groups in the upper body and because it is an aerobic activity it improves the efficiency of our cardiovascular system and encourages us to take in more oxygen, leading to increased alertness and a host of other benefits associated with increased oxygenation. In our Ridiculously Simple Step To Transform Your Health (and Life) Step Two, we discussed the possibility of going outside in the morning and taking ten deep breaths to infuse your body with quality oxygen to begin your day. Improved airflow in the upper respiratory tract as a result of singing is likely to lessen the opportunity for bacteria to flourish, countering the symptoms of colds and flu. Singing also aids the development of motor control and coordination, and recent studies have shown that it improves neurological functioning.
Feeling better through singing is not a new discovery. “There is evidence to suggest that monks used to sing to each other as part of the healing process and even in traditional cultures singing has been used as a means of healing. When I was a young mother I was given the good advice to sing to help counter the stresses of motherhood. This was brilliant advice. Sometimes there is a feeling of helplessness when a young parent is confronted with a distressed baby. To help prevent the parent from becoming distressed too the advice is to sing, and sing and sing. This will also help to calm the baby. Our culture has sleep time lullabys for parents to sing to their children. Our own children will tell you that their experience of my singing did not stop at the new born stage. I used it to good effect when one (or more) of the children would not take “no” for an answer. The more the requests, the more I sang and louder and louder. Perhaps the most effective time I employed singing to help me cope was travelling in the car with five young children during long drives in the Australian countryside. Sometimes the children could be enrolled in singing together. As the children got older however, even the mere mention of me singing was enough to sort out the problem!!!!! There is nothing like singing for generating that feel good factor, though. “It’s almost indescribable,” says singer and singing coach Helen Astrid. “It’s an incredible endorphin rush. You feel like you’ve got a spring in your step.” Singing certainly helps to make us feel alive!
Professor Graham Welch, Chair of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, who has studied developmental and medical aspects of singing for thirty years says, “The health benefits of singing are both physical and psychological. Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being. Psychological benefits are also evident when people sing together as well as alone because of the increased sense of community, belonging and shared endeavour.” There is even more exciting research about the effect of singing on reducing pain and the profound effects it has on our emotions as it induces a state of relaxation. It could also be used as an antidote to depression, anxiety and fatigue. Perhaps in the future we will see “singing on prescription” where your local GP is issuing prescriptions for a night out at the karaoke bar!
Singing even helps us live longer according to the findings of a joint Harvard and Yale study which showed that choral singing increased the life expectancy of the population of New Haven, Connecticut. The report concluded that this was because singing promoted both a healthy heart and an enhanced mental state. Another study at the University of California has reported higher levels of immune system proteins in the saliva of choristers after performing a complex Beethoven masterwork and while we are not suggesting you take the next Ridiculously Simple Step To Transform Your Health (and Life) to that degree, you certainly could!
Singing helps bond people together breaks down walls of separation, isolation and loneliness – think of church halls, sports stadiums, national anthems etc. There’s an excitement of being involved. Participation is the source of all vitality and what better way to increase our health and wellbeing. Advocates of singing lament its diminishing role in our lives: from the days when we sang round the piano to pass the working day, to soothing babies and marking moments of sorrow and celebration. Singing is sacred and everyday – ritualistic and spontaneous.
To take this week’s Ridiculously Simple Step to Transform Your Health (and Life) all you need do is SING, AS IF NO-ONE IS LISTENING in the shower, in the car, maybe at your neighbour’s infamous karaoke night – anywhere at all. Embrace it whole-heartedly. This ancient art not only leaves you feeling uplifted, but can enhance your well-being and prolong your life. Why wait?
Your comments and suggestions are invited on this blog post.