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Lyz Cooper
from: Lyz Cooper
Category: Voicework

Your Healing Voice - The benefits of singing for health and wellbeing - Lyz Cooper

Introduction and Context

The benefits of singing have long been documented – we know it feels good to sing, but what actually happens to our bodies when we sing?In this paper, we will discover how and why singing can be so beneficial to our overall health and well-being. We will also discover the best music to sing along with and how long we need to sing for in order to feel the benefits. Research has shown that singing may actually help us ward off illness – a benefit that is not to be underestimated in this current pandemic situation.In order to understand the therapeutic effect of singing and how our voices can help our overall wellbeing it helps to first explore the mechanisms underlying the relationship between singing and our body chemistry. 

Hormones and Neurotransmitters
Adrenaline, Cortisol and Stress HormonesAdrenaline (sometimes called the ‘fight or flight hormone’) is a hormone released by the adrenal glands and some neurons. Adrenaline is released in response to a stressful, exciting, dangerous, or threatening situation. It helps body and mind to react more quickly by raising heart rate, blood pressure and diverting blood flow from the digestive system to the muscles.If the system is stressed for a prolonged period of time the nervous system can get stuck in ‘fight or flight mode’ and in these cases there can be elevated levels of Adrenaline in the system. Research has shown that an increase in adrenaline has been linked to a whole host of health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and mental health conditions. Therefore, reducing the amount of adrenaline in the system is important for overall health and wellbeing. 

Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands and is also associated with heightened stress levels. Cortisol regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body, including metabolism and the immune system response. There have been numerous studies that have shown that cortisol levels reduce when we sing for pleasure (as opposed to performing, which can be stressful), indicating that singing is a stress-reducing activity.1,2

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure and therefore an increase in Dopamine can elevate our mood-state. Every time we experience chills or goose-bumps when listening to our favourite track we are giving ourselves a shot of this ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter.3 When considering putting your favourite sing along playlist together, you may want to add in a few songs that give you goose-bumps.

Endorphins is a collective name given to groups of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system that perform a variety of different physiological functions. When released,t hey have a pain reducing and mood lifting effect. It was found that singing, dancing and drumming all trigger endorphin release whereas just listening to music and low energy musical activities do not.4 Basically, if you dance around your bedroom singing into a hairbrush you are much more likely to lift your mood.
Immunoglobulin A
Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is an antibody blood protein that is an important part of the immune system. We make IgA and other types of antibodies to help fight off sickness. Stress lowers the production of lgA and therefore leaves the immune system vulnerable to attack. In the recent(and ongoing) COVID 19 pandemic, health advisors were advising people to reduce their stress levels to help build immunity.5,6,7

There have been numerous studies that have explored the relationship between singing and IgA and have found that singing significantly improves lgA levels – one study recorded a 150%increase in lgA in 10 solo singers that were monitored over a 10-week period.8

It has also been found that people are much more likely to be positive and relaxed when they have elevated levels of lgA. 

Mind Body and Spirit
Singing for Better Mental HealthWe’ve already explored the benefits of singing on stress hormones and neurotransmitters and have found evidence to show that singing helps you feel better. Regulation in the breath when you feel anxious also helps reduce stress and anxiety and happy music elevates your mood. As well as solo singing, there a great social benefit to singing - especially if you get together with friends online or in person.

During the pandemic there has been an increase in Zoom choirs and group singing is a great way to connect over a distance if you can’t get together in person. Stewart and Lonsdale collected data from 375 participants and found that choral singers reported significantly higher psychological wellbeing than solo singers.9Physical HealthSinging increases heart and lung function. In her research paper Beri (2016) posits the benefits of Pranayama – the branch of yoga that includes specific breathwork exercises. Studies showed that practitioners of this form of breathing had increased antioxidant levels in their blood 10.

Antioxidants are known to combat the oxidisation of the cells which has been associated with ageing and disease. Singing songs enables a person to sustain their breath in a certain way. In order to sing long phrases, you need to take a deep breath and let it out more slowly. Songs that enhance sustained breathing tone the lungs, reduce stress and increasing oxygen flow to all parts of the body. There have been studies that have shown a link to stress and ageing - chronic stress can accelerate the ageing process. 11

Spiritual Health
The growing trend in practices like mindfulness, sound therapy, sound-baths and yoga, is evidence that many people are taking more care of their spiritual health. Spiritual health is not just about being bendy, navel gazing or finding god it is about finding something that connects you to something greater than you.12 What makes you in awe of your place in the world and your connectedness to others? This could be an activity in your local community or visiting your mosque, synagogue, church or temple. It could be regular meditation, a walk in the forest or a swim in the sea.

A study was done among a group of nurses that experienced stress and depression in their workplace. It was concluded that taking spiritual health into consideration helped people to ‘manage their stress, to reduce depressive symptoms and to enhance health-promoting behaviours’.13 Studies have shown that we are much happier when we connect and reach out to others6. Singing in groups is a great way to do this. Make it a personal mission to create a choir – remember it has to be a ‘no pressure’ choir or stress hormones will kick in. Singing for the heaven of it is perfect! 

Which Music to Choose?
Music improves health and wellbeing by affecting our neuro-chemical systems for reward and pleasure; stress and arousal; immunity; and social affiliation Chanda & Levitin (2013).14 A study was undertaken by The British Academy of Sound Therapy which explored the use of music as medicine.15 Over 7500 people took part in the study to find out what kind of music people used to improve their health and wellbeing, how long it took people to feel the effects of the music and what was it about the music that made it so effective. Although this study focussed on listening to music rather than singing, the study on p.3 (see Endorphins) found that more endorphins were released when engaging in music rather than just listening to it.4

To read more about the results of this study and which music to choose - please visit

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