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dr. Lisa

dr. Lisa

The Health Benefits of Singing

Lessons Learned from Buddy the Elf

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. 

Singing may be the best way to spread Christmas cheer, but it also is a wonderful way to boost your mood and your immunity. Singing does not require any tools or training. It can be done by almost anyone anywhere. Sure, it may not be appropriate in the middle of the grocery store, but I will admit, I often find myself singing along to the music they play at Kroger. 

I’m in a store, and I’m singing! 

If you haven’t paid attention, you need to. There is even a Kroger playlist on Spotify, and a Facebook group dedicated to the songs Kroger plays. If you grew up in the 80’s like me, you will love it!

But I digress. There are health benefits from singing carols or your favorite grocery store playlist. You can sing alone or with a group. Being good at singing is not even a requirement. You will reap the benefits whether you can carry a tune or not. 

Physiologic Benefits of Singing

The act of singing can benefit the body in a real, physical way. One of the more obvious benefits is increasing lung capacity and improving oxygen saturation of the blood. Singing requires deep breathing, which works the diaphragm, abdominal muscles, and intercostal muscles between the ribs. As we increase our inspirations, we also increase the oxygen levels in our blood, which makes us feel more mentally alert and improves the function of every organ in our body. 

Additionally, studies have shown a reduction in salivary levels of cortisol by up to 30% after singing. Cortisol is a hormone released in times of stress. It is part of the evolutionary flight or fight response we experience when something scares us. 

He’s an Angry Elf.

You want a cortisol spike if an Angry Elf is storming toward you across a conference room table. You do not want chronically elevated levels of cortisol because you have a stressful job working in the mailroom and your body is constantly in flight or fight mode. 

This place reminds me of Santa’s workshop…except it smells like mushrooms, and everyone looks like they want to hurt me. 

Singing can reduce cortisol levels and calm the body. It is your way of telling your body that everything is alright. After all, you would never sing while running from an Angry Elf, would you? 

The same study showed elevations in Immunoglobin A after singing. Immunoglobin A is an antibody produced by your body to fight against viruses and bacteria. In layman’s terms, this means that singing boosts your immunity. No wonder we sing Christmas carols during the winter season, which coincidentally is also referred to as flu season. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but perhaps a song could, too. 

Psychological Benefits of Singing

Not surprisingly, people who sing report an improvement in their mood and feelings of well-being. This is especially true of those who sing in a group. 

If you can sing alone, you can sing in front of other people. There’s no difference.

If you sing in a group or choir, you may also produce oxytocin, a powerful neurotransmitter that creates positive emotions in the brain such as trust, empathy, bonding, and connection. It is one of a trio of hormones referred to as “happy hormones”: oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. Oxytocin makes you feel a sense of kinship with those around you. The oxytocin release may be related more to the group atmosphere of a choir rather than the singing itself. So, if you want to take your singing to another level, consider joining your local community or church choir. 

Sounds like somebody needs to sing a Christmas carol. 

Singing can even benefit those who are dealing with grief or who are experiencing neurocognitive deficits. In a study of people dealing with grief, participants randomized to sing with a group for 90 minutes per week reported their symptoms of depression and feelings of well-being were stabilized. Additionally, these same people reported improvements in their self-esteem. Participants in the control group who did not sing reported worsening of their depression, a decrease in overall feelings of well-being, and a reduction in self-esteem. 

Singing can evoke emotion and illicit memories in patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. Some patients with dementia are better able to recall song lyrics than other information stored in their long-term memory. In addition to remembering the words to songs, patients with dementia can also recall memories associated with the songs they sing. 

Treat every day like Christmas.

‘Tis the season to channel your inner Buddy the Elf and belt out a few Christmas tunes. Make it a practice every day to sing. I bet you will find that it makes you happier, and maybe a little healthier. If you won’t sing, then you are just a cotton-headed ninny-muggins or you may be a South Pole Elf.

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