The science behind singing for your lungs

The science behind singing for your lungs
Tis the season for a good song – from Chanukah Hymns to Christmas Carols to your long-awaited Spotify Unwrapped. Could singing along to your favorite songs be good for your lungs?
Singing as a practice involves vocal warm-up sessions and breathing exercises that require you to breathe deeper and control your breathing. These exercises, along with the actual singing, can help you strengthen the vocal cords, build breath control, and utilize the lungs' full capacity. Singing was recently found to increase blood oxygen in a simulated high-altitude environment. It has also been known to release happy hormones such as serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine.
The vocal arts aren't just for ballad-belting, mountain climbing lungs. Singing can even be recommended for people with respiratory conditions. One study suggests that singing and playing certain wind instruments can be helpful for people with obstructive sleep apnea. Another study where people with a snoring problem were made to sing found that singing practice may be helpful in the treatment of snoring.
More research is needed, but a recent review on signing for lung health suggests the potential to improve quality of life without causing any significant side effects.
In London, an initiative called Breathe Sing for Lung Health has shown us how singing can even bring people together across distances. The program offers online singing sessions with a vocal coach with the goal of helping people manage symptoms such as breathlessness. It also aims to combat isolation through singing. The participant testimonials speak for themselves.
Read on for more about how singing supports lung health. 

The Physiology of Singing

At its foundation, singing is a rhythmic exchange of air that is made possible by our respiratory system. As we breathe in to sing, the diaphragm contracts and draws air into the lungs. The intercostal muscles then expand the ribcage, increasing lung capacity. When you exhale to produce sound, the process reverses back the other way with the diaphragm relaxing and the intercostal muscles contracting, letting air out and creating a melody (aka singing!). 

Though singing may produce beautiful sounds (for the musically inclined among us ;)), it also acts as an exercise for the lungs and the entire respiratory system. Since singing requires controlled breathing and the deep inhalation and exhalation described above, the lungs have to work hard to perform. It's truly a workout, for your lungs! This exercise helps to strengthen the respiratory muscles, including the aforementioned diaphragm and intercostals, improving their endurance in the process. 

How Deep Breathing Improves Lung Capacity

One of the primary ways that singing benefits lung health is in the way it encourages increased lung capacity. Lung capacity is simply the amount of air your lungs can hold after you take a deep inhale. Every note you sing requires deep breathing which helps to expand lung capacity. 

This deep breathing helps the lungs receive enough oxygen, which is necessary for your body's energy production and overall wellbeing. It also supports the removal of carbon dioxide, a waste product. 

Stronger Respiratory Muscles

Just like athletes train their muscles (and their lungs!), using the lungs to their fullest abilities in singing takes practice and training. The diaphragm is often a main focus of this training, since strengthening the diaphragm allows for better breath control and results in a better overall sound. 

The intercostal muscles, also mentioned in our introduction, are key in proper breathing during singing. Regularly using and engaging the intercostal muscles improves their strength and flexibility, which enables singers to use the deep breathes required for a great sound. Whether someone is a professional singer or just likes to belt it out in the car on the way home from work, this muscle conditioning benefits anyone and everyone!

Improved Oxygenation and Enhanced Stamina

Like we discussed early, oxygenation, or supplying your body with proper oxygen, is important for both physical and mental performance. Engaging in the deep, controlled breathing that singing requires helps oxygen to reach every cell in the body, which improves energy and enhances stamina. This means that you can participate in activities for longer periods of time without getting tired or needing to take a break. 

Improved Posture and Lung Expansion

Proper posture is vital for singing, and for overall health. When singers are training, they're often taught to stand up tall with shoulders relaxed and their spine aligned. This proper posture ensures that the lungs are able to expand fully during inhalation, which is crucial to proper singing technique. This expansion also allows for optimal airflow and oxygenation. 

On the other hand, poor posture (which many of us suffer from!) can compress the lungs and doesn't allow them to expand fully, as they're intended to. Over time, this causes issues, including shallow breathing, which reduces the ever-important oxygenation of your tissues. 

Respiratory Control in Daily Life

As we've talked about, singing supports better breath control. It's no surprise that this crosses over into daily life, where those with formal singing experience are better able to manage their breath during exercise, when stressed, or even when public speaking or presenting. 

If someone struggles with a chronic respiratory condition like asthma or COPD, singing can often serve as a therapeutic tool, encouraging more efficient breathing, reducing shortness of breath, and helping to manage their conditions. Singing is even sometimes incorporated into rehab programs for those that are recovering from surgery or dealing with respiratory issues. These singing exercises help patients to improve lung capacity, strengthen respiratory muscles (like the diaphragm and intercostals) and have more control over their breathing patterns. 

Singing Is For Everyone

You don't have to be the next Taylor Swift to benefit from the impact that singing has on lungs, overall respiratory health, and general wellbeing. In fact, the benefits are universal, and you can take advantage no matter where you're starting from on the talent spectrum. 

For children, singing can be made into a game. By encouraging and practicing correct breathing techniques from a young age, you can set the foundation for your child to have a lifetime of healthy respiration. 

As individuals transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, singing can still play a role. In fact, singing can help manage stress and encourage relaxation. Have you ever had a song and dance party after a particularly stressful day? We have, and it works wonders! Give it a try sometime to see its positive impact. The controlled breathing that singing (even silly singing!) encourages can be incredibly beneficial during times of stress, moments of tension, or periods of overwhelm. We don't know about you, but we have those regularly in modern life! Singing is a natural and accessible (read: almost anyone can do it!) way to manage and alleviate stress. 

For older adults, singing once again can play a very supportive role, and it can even provide fulfillment and social engagement in the process. As we age, our lung function naturally declines. Regular lung exercise, like singing, can help maintain lung capacity and elasticity and strengthen important respiratory muscles like the intercostals and the diaphragm. 

And as far as social engagement goes, there are community choirs and other singing groups that can provide social interaction, especially important for older adults who may have increased isolation or feelings of loneliness. Here's to improved wellbeing and happier lives, at any age!

Singing is the best kind of lung exercise, because it also improves and enriches our lives in other ways, including artistically and emotionally, improving overall wellbeing in the process. By improving oxygenation, strengthening respiratory muscles like the diaphragm and intercostals, and allowing for controlled breath, singing helps provide an option for holistic lung care that's accessible for almost anyone.

So whether you're home along or out caroling in the streets this holiday season, don't let a little shyness hold you back from singing your favorite songs. You'll feel better (in more ways than one!) if you do!

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.





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