Singing for health and wellbeing – 5 benefits of singing

There is something unique about singing – and choral singing in particular – that has the ability to make a deep and lasting impact on the listeners.  Add to that the inspirational genre of gospel music and you have something that many feel they can connect with and draw from regardless of their personal beliefs.  A music recording makes a beautiful and longlasting gift if you have an idea of the taste in music of the recipient.  But what about the gift of singing for health and wellbeing?  Encouraging someone who is facing illness to join a choir and even accompanying them can work wonders for their emotional and physiological wellbeing.

In the wake of the recent royal wedding of Prince Harry to Ms Meghan Markle on 19 May 2018, singing is a hot topic at the moment.  It would seem that gospel choir conductor Karen Gibson and The Kingdom Choir with lead vocalist Paul Lee have won the hearts of people all over the world with their outstanding performance of “Stand By Me” the Ben E. King classic which has since been recorded over 400 times.  There was something “magical” about this performance that has shot the song to number 1 in the Billboard charts: Hot Gospel Songs and Gospel Digital Song Sales.  Not only was this the first time that a gospel choir has sung at a British royal wedding but it is also a first for British gospel artists as none have ever topped the Billboard gospel charts.  The Kingdom Choir also have a second track – “Amen / This Little Light of Mine”, an Etta James cover that has the number 2 spot in the Hot Gospel Songs chart and is number 15 in the Gospel Digital Song Sales chart.

I’m privileged to be able to say that I had the honour of performing at the royal wedding as part of The Kingdom Choir.  It was an amazing day and to have been there and to have been able to impart something very special for the couple is an experience that we will cherish forever.

The Kingdom Choir performs Stand By Me at the Royal Wedding

There have been many studies and research projects that have set about to find out how singing benefits health and wellbeing.  If you have ever sung in a choir you will know first hand that you tend to leave choir rehearsals and events feeling like a different person to the one that arrived.  Over and over people have given testimonials of how they have struggled to leave their houses after arriving home after a long day at work but they have pushed through the tiredness barrier to experience a real lift from singing in a group.

1. Improves respiratory health

Dr Ian Morrison of Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent has conducted a study – An evaluation of community singing for people with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).  The study has shown that after a period of around 5 months of singing, lung function of COPD sufferers had improved.  This has mainly been attributed to the breathing exercises associated with singing.

2. Improves blood circulation

The deep breathing employed during singing means that oxygen levels in the blood increase, which in turn improves the circulation of blood around the body.  Poor circulation can be more serious than it sounds.  When the body doesn’t receive enough oxygen to the cells the body is essentially being starved of vital nutrients that keep them functioning.  Poor circulation can lead to loss of mobility.  Singing helps to keep the body oxygenated and the blood flowing without restriction.

3. Decreases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone

A study carried out by Fancourt, D. et all has shown that singing suppresses the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and cortisone and also increases the production of cytokines.  Cytokines are molecules that work to communicate to the immune system to fight infection and inflammation in the body.  The decrease in cortisol and the increase in the cytokines means that the body is better able to protect itself against cancers.

4. Reduces anxiety and depression

Research led by Professor Stephen Clift from the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health, in Canterbury has found that singing releases endorphins – hormones which are natural pain relievers and antidepressants.  In addition, the hormone oxytocin is released the presence of which is linked to reduced anxiety and depression.

Anecdotally, I have witnessed the change in those who are affected by low moods and depression when they experience singing in a choir.  The shared activity and perhaps the music itself works wonders in lifting those who are feeling low.  Interestingly, it is said that people who attend Gospel concerts or South Asian concerts tend to experience greater levels of a sense of “worthwhileness” and happiness.

5. Improves mental alertness

It has already been mentioned that singing helps to oxygenate the blood, which results in improved lung function.  The increase of oxygen in the blood stream doesn’t only help with respiratory problems, it also helps to lower blood pressure, helps to regulate the heart and provides oxygen to the brain to boost cognition – the process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought and experiences – and mental alertness.

Kingdom Choir outside St George's Chapel at Windsor

There are research centres in the UK such as the What Works Centre for Wellbeing in Brunel who aim to influence the injection of funding for the provision of singing opportunities as therapy as opposed to hobbies and activities purely for enjoyment.

Other benefits of singing in a choir include the fact that posture improves, you get a physical workout and your social life improves through making connections with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.  Your unique gift of enabling your loved one to experience the joy of singing for health and wellbeing will reap all kinds of benefits.  The great thing about many of the community choirs that exist is that you don’t need to be an experienced singer to join – many choirs are non-audition and don’t require you to be able to read music.  It’s a win-win all round!

We would love to hear from you – please feel free to post a comment or share your opinion in the box below.

10 thoughts on “Singing for health and wellbeing – 5 benefits of singing

  1. Wow you’re amazing to be part of the Kingdom Choir!
    I know of friends who sing to keep themselves going, emotionally. And they do it as part of their volunteering work, singing to people who are in need, like the aged folks, or orphans.
    I never knew there are so many benefits to singing. Thanks for the insightful article.

    1. Yes, many of the people across the different choirs I work with have said that it’s a lifeline and that they always feel different after a rehearsal or event. It’s also a great way to make connections.

  2. It must have been an amazing experience to witness the royal wedding as part of the Kingdom Choir. I wish I have a singing talent too! It’s great to know that singing can reduce depression and anxiety as we live in such a stressful and fast paced lifestyle. I wasn’t aware that it could raise mental alertness too. Thanks for sharing.

    1. We have lots of anecdotal evidence to show that singing is good for you but it’s great to have the scientific evidence as well. Yes, being a part of the Kingdom Choir for the wedding was an unforgettable experience and great to be a part of history.

  3. Hi Kim.
    Congratulations on being part of this wonderful choir and I totally agree with all that you have said about the benefits of singing. I have been a musical theatre teacher for many years and so can attest to the benefits that being part of a group that creates music can bring.
    Singing to me, is like dance – one of the fundamental and most basic forms of self-expression, and as such, is part of our make-up – our DNA if you like. It’s a shame that so many people are told early on that they cannot sing or dance and they tend to believe these comments and not participate from then on. Let’s hope some of them read your article and take it up again.

    1. Thank you Gail – I also like to think that everyone has a voice and everyone can be taught to sing. I find it fascinating that many will quite “happily” speak in front of others but are so fearful of adding music to their voices and singing. I hope that the Kingdom Choir has sparked a new interest in singing and that many will discover that they do indeed have a voice.

  4. I had no idea singing had so many benefits! I suppose this is why people would sing back in the day at prisons and out in cotton fields? Maybe they didn’t realize then exactly how it was making them feel better, but I imagine they sang because it alleviated at least some stress. I also noticed I sing at work a lot when a customer annoys me and from that point on my day seems to get a bit better. Never would have thought singing was doing all of these things. I’ll have to do it more often!

    1. I’ve been singing for many years and have known for a while that singing makes you feel differently inside. I didn’t realise until fairly recently that singing is actually good for your health. Who knew?

  5. Hi Kim, what an amazing achievement for you to be a part of The Kingdom Choir and performing at the British royal wedding. I’m sure that’s an experience that will be with you forever.
    I think singing, together with feeling connected to a group of like-minded people through a choir, is a beautiful gift. I hope that your readers, who may feel too busy or tired or stressed, who love singing, will feel inspired to take up singing again. Even if it’s just for themselves.

    1. This is definitely an achievement that we’ll remember for years to come. I agree with you that singing is a gift and really hope that more people will try it – even if only once. It was such a lovely sight to see my son giving singing a try last year – and he actually enjoyed it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *