Humans love to sing! Almost all of us sing to ourselves in our downtime. Singing relieves stress and makes us happy. It also helps keep you healthy, and leads to living a longer life – seriously, it’s proven!
In fact, the scientific evidence correlating singing to better mood, better health, and better social connectivity is overwhelming. Although singing is not a cure-all, there is a reason that almost every culture sings.
If you love singing, get ready for more reasons to love it. Here is how and why singing leads to a healthier, happier life.
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Singing Makes You Happier
Singing makes you happier! It is scientifically proven. When male songbirds sing to female songbirds, it activates the pleasure center of the male’s brain. Same thing happens in humans!
Singing releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in the brain. Singing also promotes deep breathing, as you need to take deep breaths and control your breathing. In fact, singing is an aerobic activity, which means it gets oxygen into your blood, improving circulation and it boosts your mood.
Beyond physiological effects, singing in front of a crowd builds confidence, which has a long-lasting effect on your well-being.
An Australian study published in 2008 showed that choral singers rated their satisfaction with life higher than the general public. A study of 600 British choral singers found that singing plays a central role in their mental health.
When you are singing, you need to concentrate on the music, the technique, and the lyrics. It is hard to worry about anything else. This leads to singing being a relaxing activity, simply because it is associated with being stress-free.
If you are singing in a group that is regularly learning new material, you should experience some of the health benefits of learning. Learning keeps the brains active and young. Learning new music can fend off depression in older people.
Finally, being a happier, more confident person, means you’re going to make friends! Which brings me to my next point.
Singing With Others Improves Your Social Life
Some of the most important benefits that singing delivers are achieved when singing in a group. Being a member of a choir gives you a support system that you can lean on. You have to leave your house, leave your regular life, and go be with other people every week.
For many people, choir is a huge part of their social life. You can become very involved in choral groups – sitting on committees, volunteering, learning songs, and just hanging out. Making friends over a shared love of music goes a long way towards combating loneliness and isolation.
This is the same benefit that people get from being a part of a sports league or a running club. Regular social activity, a social safety net, and a shared love of an activity.
You can get this same benefit from playing in a band, regularly meeting with friends to jam, and otherwise collaborating with friends on music. Choral singing is easier to study, because it already has large groups, and that is why there are more studies on it.
You should get together with your friends as regularly as possible and play music. It will make you happier and healthier!
Singing Boosts The Immune System
According to scientists at the University of Frankfurt in Germany, singing boosts your immune system. They tested the blood of people who sang in a professional choir, before and after a rehearsal of Mozart’s Requiem.
After the rehearsal, they found that immunoglobulin A – a protein that functions as an antibody – were significantly increased. They found that singing strengthened the immune system and boosted the mood of the participants.
Specifically, they found that singing had additional benefits over merely listening to music. After listening to music passively, there was no notable difference in the immune system. After singing, the effects were pronounced.
Singing Relieves Stress
In 2017, scientists found that singing lowers the amount of cortisol after singing. The study examined the impact of singing in a low-stress performance situation and a high-stress live concert on the levels of cortisol and cortisone in 15 singers.
Cortisol is nature’s built-in alarm system. It is made in the adrenal glands, working to control your mood, fear, and motivation. It manages how your body uses carbs, fats, and proteins.
After singing, there was a significant decrease in cortisol and cortisone in the low-stress performance situation. The decrease was even more pronounced in the high-stress situation, leading researchers to believe that while singing itself is stress-inducing, when the activity is completed, it promotes health and decreases stress.
That said, another study found that cortisol is only reduced when singing in an environment that doesn’t make you anxious. That makes sense to me!
Obviously, singing in front of a crowd is nerve-wracking, and singing itself can be a vulnerable experience. That said, the feeling of singing in front of a crowd and nailing it is amazing. Ask a singer, they’ll tell you!
The point is, singing is a uniquely challenging and pleasurable experience. It may not always relieve stress, but generally, it helps.
Singing Loudly May Help Connect You With Your Body
Have you ever heard of the vagus nerve? The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body. It connects the brain, the gut, the lungs, and the heart. The vagus nerve helps us rest, digest, and chill out. It is the opposite of cortisol!
You can stimulate this nerve by deep breathing. You can also stimulate it by singing! Your voice box (larynx) is connected to the vagus nerve, and when you sing or hum, you naturally activate the nerve.
Even without singing, slowing down your breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and helps calm you down.
This Psychology Today article suggests that strengthening the vagus nerve helps make people more resilient to stress over time. That would certainly help explain why people who sing in choirs tend to report a higher level of satisfaction with their lives!
Singing Can Improve Sleep
Singing regularly may change the way you breathe, even when you are not singing. Even when you are sleeping!
A 2008 study of spouses of choir members and spouses of people who don’t sing, found that choir members snored far less than the general public.
In fact, there is evidence that singing (or playing a wind instrument) can help with obstructive sleep apnea. Wind instrument players and singers are noted to have less sleep apnea, snore less, have less sleep disturbance, and have less daytime sleepiness.
The researchers theorized that regularly doing activities that require muscle activation for air pressure or embouchure for tone, improve the flow of air through the lungs. So far, there haven’t been enough studies to prove this, but the colloquial data is there.
Sleeping well is a very important part of a complete mental health strategy. Everything from weight, to your heart, to your mood, to your memory is affected by your sleep!
Singing Improves Your Lungs
Singing involves deep breathing and the controlled use of muscles in the respiratory system. This means singing can offer benefits for people who suffer from COPD, asthma, cystic fibrosis, and many more illnesses related to your lungs.
Singing won’t cure any of the symptoms, but you will certainly benefit from strengthened respiratory muscles. Singing is by nature an aerobic activity, and comes with many of the benefits associated with other aerobic activities.
Namely, great circulation of oxygen in the blood, which is shown to have benefits for both heart health and for your mood.
Singing Can Enhance Your Memory
Singing provides huge benefits for your mind and your memory. The Alzheimer’s Society even has a “Singing for the Brain” program that helps people with dementia and Alzheimer’s keep their memory and slow the progress of the disease.
The Alzheimer’s Society conducted a qualitative study that explored the effects of singing on people with dementia. They found that participants who were singing with others regularly had increased social connection, and improvement in their relationships, memory, and mood.
Beyond that, participants found singing to be a fun part of their day. One participant said that “it was nice to be able to remember something.” Music sticks in your brain in a different way than other memories.
Check out this beautiful performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
This lady is a 92-year old woman with dementia. This video went viral, because despite her age and mental condition, she can play a difficult piece beautifully. It’s impressive and moving!
Singing Can Improve Overall Cognition
Singing and playing music have effects on cognition for young people as well. Musical training is associated with improved perceptual and cognitive skills. In childhood especially, it is associated with higher levels of general intelligence.
This study showed that after matching for socio-economic status, personality, and other variables, adult musicians displayed higher cognitive performance than non-musicians in every attribute they measured. That’s a big deal!
There is a strong correlation between singing, learning to read music, and learning songs and improved mental functioning. One study noted that musicians who were also taking time to stay physically active reporting even higher levels of functioning.
Learning how to sing, learning to play music, and making physical activity a priority all contribute to a healthy, happy life.
Singing Creates Pleasant Physical Sensations
Researchers at Manchester University found a part of the balance-regulating system in the inner responds to frequencies that are found in music. This tiny part of the ear is called the sacculus is not thought to have any function in normal hearing – it's only sensitive to louder volumes, like music.
They believe that this is a vestigial organ, because the sacculus is also found in fish. Haddock respond to a mating call that vibrates in their sacculus, and then the fish are encouraged to mate and lay eggs.
Researchers theorized that the sacculus is part of why people get a pleasurable feeling from music and music is such an important cultural force. Loud singing may stimulate this tiny organ and create pleasant sensations while you sing!
Singing Helps With Grief & Emotional Processing
Singing with others is good for your body, it is good for your mind, and it is also good for your spirit. Sad songs say so much, and who amongst us has not dealt with sadness by putting on our favorite albums or singing or favorite songs in the car.
In 2019, researchers conducted a study on people dealing with grief. They found that people who sang in a choir had greater resilience to depression and their mood remained more stable throughout the process.
The choristers actually reported a slow improvement in their self-esteem during the 12-week study, and those who didn’t participate in the singing did not report this benefit.
Anecdotally, I can tell you that playing shows, writing songs, and recording songs have got me through almost every heartbreak I’ve had. Even through bouts with depression, I was able to play shows, attend rehearsals, and most of the time I would come out the other side feeling a little bit better.
I will note that in my experience, singing and playing music you love and care about helps more than just singing or playing anything. I remember leaving a rehearsal with a folk singer I really loved, and just noting how good that felt compared to other gigs that I didn’t care about as much.
Sing music you love with people you love – I promise it will help!
Singing Can Reduce Physical Pain
As we noted above, collective singing can cause your body to release endorphins. Endorphins help with your mood and sense of well-being, but they also help change your perception of physical pain.
A study done in 2012 showed that singing, dancing, and drumming all trigger endorphin release, whereas simply listening to music does not. It’s the act of singing that triggers the endorphins – not necessarily the music itself.
All these extra endorphins in your system help your body deal with pain. Your pain tolerance is raised during and after you rehearse or perform music.
These feelings seem to come from the social connection as well as the act of singing – so you should be able to get the same feeling from any sort of regular musical activity, like jamming with your band.
I would argue that getting together with your friends and writing songs or producing beats would give you some of the same benefits, especially if you are singing over top of the beats and writing your own material.
Singing Can Keep Your Voice Young
Singing exercises the vocal cords and keeps them young. Like anything, your vocal cords can be used, overused, and underused. Singing regularly, with good technique, and especially singing in a group will help keep your voice young.
When you sing, your chest expands and shoulders straighten. You immediately get an improvement in posture. As you sing, your circulation improves, and with it, you heart health, and mental state.
All of this combines to keep your voice sounding good, even into old age. Like anything, practice makes perfect, and if you don’t use it, you lose it!
Singing Can Help You Live Longer And Happier
All these benefits combined mean singing can help you live a longer, happier, healthier life.
A better immune system, better lung health, better heart health all lead to a healthier body. Further, better sleep has been linked to longer life many times, and singing can help with that too!
Stress is one of modern society's biggest health problems. It leads to everything from heart disease and diabetes, to depression and anxiety. Regular singing reduces stress, and thus reduces your risk of falling prey to any of these ills.
Even if you are aging, singing will help keep your brain sharp and body young. Fighting off dementia and Alzheimer’s is becoming more and more important as people live longer and longer. Besides, music is fun, why wouldn’t you want to play it into old age?
Benefits Of Singing, Final Thoughts
Singing makes life better. Ask a singer, they will tell you. In fact, ask any musician how their lives are enhanced by music. You will be amazed by their passionate responses.
Music fills life with meaning and joy. It gives people a reason to connect. In the digital age, the power of singing together, in person, is sometimes forgotten.