Explore the health benefits of bursting into song
Can singing help patients with respiratory disorders to increase their lung capacity and regulate breathing?
“I am an asthmatic but am not much of a singer so instead of breaking windows with my voice I’ll rely on what I know instead,” says McKeown. “So I employ nasal breathing and the Buteyko method to remain symptom and medication free.
“This method is quite different to singing as it involves teaching asthmatics to unblock the nose and to breathe through it on a permanent basis. Buteyko breathing exercises are also employed to bring the breathing volume of an asthmatic towards normal – in clinical trials, asthmatics breathe two to three times more volume than normal,” McKeown asserts.
“Asthmatics for the most part display dysfunctional breathing including breathing through the mouth, upper chest breathing, sighing and noticeable breathing. The Buteyko method aims to reverse these poor habits, while singing does not. Six clinical trials of the Buteyko method for asthma show a significant improvement to quality of life and reduction in the need for medication,” he says.
But Dermot O’Callaghan, chief executive of the Association of Irish Choirs, says singing is hugely beneficial both mentally and physically. “It is most definitely good to sing and is a stimulating experience in many ways,” he says. “Your entire body is involved in singing. Your mind needs to actively engage for various reasons: to create a good sound, to sing the correct notes and to blend with fellow singers. The more you sing, the more you will realise that you will achieve better and varied results if you engage your body in different ways,” he says.
Benefits of singing
“There are many research projects and findings that prove time and again that singing has an undeniable impact on positive mental health. Some of the obvious direct results of singing are elevated mood, improved memory and increased concentration,” he says.
Stress and anxiety have also been proved to be significantly reduced after singing. There are also many physical benefits which include better posture, stronger stomach muscles and toned facial muscles. And research at the University of Frankfurt points to immune system benefits and improved lung capacity as well.
“The US Journal of Behavioural Medicine reported that blood samples taken from choir members before and after they sang found raised levels of immunoglobulin A and cortisol. Their blood composition was unaffected when the singers simply listened to the same music.
“The inherent value that is derived from singing is there for people of all abilities. The physical and mental process is similar for all who engage in it,” O’Callaghan says.