Singing is as old as humanity and may actually predate the development of spoken language. Most of us sing, at least occasionally, vocalizing in the shower or improvising duets with a favorite opera singer or rock star. Millions of people sing in choirs or other groups. Research increasingly shows that singing can also benefit physical and mental health. Here are a few of the latest findings:
Singing and respiratory health
Several studies suggest that singing can help improve breathing in some people with asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). According to a Canadian review article in Health Promotion International, the research has been promising, though in some studies the benefits may have been due to improvements in general health, mood, and well-being, not necessarily to better breathing.
Singing for stress reduction and better immunity
Several groups of researchers have found that singing can reduce certain stress hormones or improve levels of some immunity-related factors. For instance, in a Japanese study in BioPsycho-Social Medicine, older people had reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva after singing, as well as improved mood and less tension. Changes in such markers are temporary, however, and may mean little in terms of health.
Singing and cognition, dementia
As British researchers reported in the journal Dementia, a group singing program developed by the U.K.-based Alzheimer's Society, called "Singing for the Brain," may help improve aspects of memory, sociability, and mood in people with dementia. Though there’s no evidence that memory-dependent activities, such as singing, can prevent dementia, many experts think they may help delay the onset of some age-related cognitive problems.
Singing for social connection
Surveys have found, not surprisingly, that people who take part in choirs and other singing groups often report improvements in social confidence and social support. Singing familiar songs and learning new ones in a group can help build self-esteem and alleviate loneliness.
Bottom line: Much research has confirmed that music has a wide range of beneficial psychological and physiological effects, particularly for people performing it and doing so with others. It isn’t hard to find a singing group; many organizations have choirs or sponsor community singing. Of course, you don’t need to have a reason to make music other than the pleasure it gives you. But that in itself can have salutary effects.
See also: The Many Health Benefits of Dancing.