Once the remit of Welsh miners, choral singing is suddenly on-trend thanks to Gareth Malone and shows such as The Choir and Last Choir Standing. While a good old belt out with the hairbrush can make anyone feel better it’s singing in a structured group – specifically a choir – that improves both health and mood dramatically.
Firstly, it’s good for your heart. This week, a Swedish study published Frontiers of Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience found that people singing in a choir actually synchronised their heartbeats along with their voices. The choral singing also increased the amount by which their heart rates varied which could help blood pressure (those whose heart rates have low variability tend to have higher blood pressure). The researchers speculated that this variability in heart rate could also have a calming effect in the same way that breathing exercises in yoga do.
Indeed, it’s great for mood too. A pilot study at the University of Western Sydney found a dramatic decrease in depression symptoms in women aged 48-73 attending a 90-minute choir session once weekly for just eight weeks.
‘Singing is an aerobic activity that brings with it increased oxygenation which improves breathing,’ says Graham Welch, professor of music education at the University of London. ‘This brings down cortisol levels and thus reduces stress making you more alert but also more calm,’ he explains.
When people are depressed they often find singing creates a cathartic response that releases pent-up emotion, he says. ‘People usually feel much better after the experience because the hormonal changes that singing brings about help release sadness or anger. There is also a positive psychological effect from social inclusion and collectively solving a task,’ says Professor Welch.
Healthista recommends these hair products
‘The type of music makes no difference as long as it’s something you like,’ says Professor Welch. ‘ The important thing is to feel a sense of achievement and influence over the final product and that in time you are getting better at it.’
Music charity Nordoff Robbins runs choir groups throughout the UK and some cost as little as £5 a session (nordoff-robbins.org.uk).
You can also find a choir in your area at nationalassociationofchoirs.org.uk, The Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers labbs.org.uk or for a more modern experience of rock, gospel and Motown try rockchoir.com. People who do it say it’s not only huge fun and a great social lift but also seriously addictive.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.