Just about everyone loves a good song. Whether you’re watching The X-Factor, The Voice, or Glee, or singing in a choir, a karaoke bar, the shower, your car, or on stage, there’s something almost magical about the combination of words and music. Actually, it’s more than magical. There’s a growing body of research suggesting that singing—especially in groups—has some very significant and positive physical and psychological benefits. Let’s take a look at some of them.
It’s an auditory pharmacy.
Singing influences levels of several important hormones. It stimulates the release of endorphins, which are associated with feelings of pleasure, and oxytocin (also released during orgasm), which reduces stress and anxiety. It also appears to reduce levels of cortisol and cortisone, which has the effect of reducing stress. Oh, and you don’t have to be a professional singer—or even have any musical talent—to reap these benefits. Researcher Betty A. Bailey and a colleague at the University of Sheffield in England studied a number of choral groups of varying skill levels, including some with no training at all. Their conclusion? Singing “can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality.” Even audience members can enjoy the benefits. Aaron Williamson, a researcher from the Royal College of Music’s Centre for Performance Science, found that while listening to music, people’s stress hormone levels (cortisol and cortisone) decrease. Listening also leads to “reduced negative mood states” (audience members have fewer feelings of fear, tension, confusion, sadness, and anxiety) and “increased positive mood states” (in other words, they feel more relaxed and connected).
It’s an acoustic gym membership.
A study published in the journal Music Perception found that singers enjoy “positive long-term cardiovascular and pulmonary changes…as singing requires repeated contractions of respiratory muscles.” A number of other studies have documented that since singing is an aerobic activity, it improves circulation, increases oxygen flow, lowers blood pressure, and gives your heart, lungs, and abs a nice workout. Studies at the University of California, Harvard, and Yale have found that choral singers have stronger immune systems and longer lifespans than those who don’t do as much singing. Compared to a control group of non-singers, those who regularly participated in a chorus made fewer doctor visits and took less prescription and over-the-counter medication. Singing can also make working out less painful. When I was in Marine Corps boot camp, my drill instructors would lead us in a never-ending repertoire of call-and-response songs about girls, sex, jumping out of planes (sometimes in the same song), and more. The lyrics were moronic, the melodies monotonous (mostly because all the songs had the same one), but those 10- and 15-mile runs went by awfully quickly.
It’s an aural fountain of youth.
Whether you’re young, old, or somewhere in between, singing helps with social bonding, memory, and overall cognitive function. Bottom line? If you’re feeling stressed, unhappy, or even a little lonely, grab your air microphone and belt out a few tunes. If you can do it with others—even if it’s just a few of your buddies on a road trip—so much the better. But even if you’re all alone, you’ll feel better, get healthier, and possibly live longer.