Understand the science behind the power of music and you might just find the inspiration to join your local choir, musical theatre group - or just sing a little louder in the shower.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to say that singing in a choir makes people feel good. But there’s actually more science - and multiple studies - with hard evidence that demonstrates the incredible difference it can make to your mental health, especially if you’re feeling particularly low.
A choir in Harrow in London was set up to use singing as a treatment for mental health issues. More Than Just A Choir is part of the Harrow Rethink Support Group, and was set up in 2009. At its weekly rehearsals the choir now attracts 30-40 singers, and has been performing since 2010, including fundraising concerts for other charities, and singing at the BBC Proms in the Albert Hall in 2015.
As part of the BBC’s Trust me, I’m a Doctor series, researchers measured the levels of endocannabinoids, a chemical in the brain that triggers a ‘natural high’. A small group of volunteers from a rock choir took part in 30 minutes of various activities – singing, cycling and dancing – and a control activity of reading appliance instruction manuals.
After half an hour of singing the endocannabinoid levels in their blood had increased by 42%, compared to a rise of 19% after cycling and 21% after dancing, along with the biggest reported improvement in mood after singing.
A study by Tenovus Cancer Care and The Royal College of Music also found that singing in a choir reduces stress and boosts mood – with the biggest change witnessed in those with the worst anxiety and depression.
How singing can prolong life
Singing - especially in a group setting - has many positive effects for your physical health, too. With your heart soaring as you hit the high notes, blood pumping, lungs filling… It’s always more of a workout than you expect.
Starting simply, standing up straight for all those hours practicing helps improve posture and deepen breathing. More interestingly, researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have also found that your heart rates often synchronise with the rest of your singing group, increasing the variability of everyone’s heart rates. They believe this could be beneficial health wise, as low heart rate variability is linked to high blood pressure.
The aforementioned study by Tenovus Cancer Care with the Royal College of Music also found that singing in a group can help improve the immune system - putting cancer patients in the best possible position to receive treatment.
Read more about boosting your wellbeing
How music can boost your brain power
Taking part in any musical activity is recognised as having multiple benefits for boosting your brain power. In fact, the benefits of playing music are though to help your brain more than any other activity. It actually changes the structure of the brain - for the better.
Playing an instrument can improve long-term memory and lead to better brain development for those who start at a young age. The process of learning and practising can improve your problem-solving and decision-making skills.
According to a University of Montreal study, musicians are also more alert, with faster auditory, tactile, and audio-tactile reaction times - and this lasts longer into old age. Patients who’ve suffered a stroke has even been found to improve their recovery through taking part in musical activities. So many good points! Now where’s my guitar…?
Inspired? Why not take a trial session at your local choir? Rock Choir offer free taster sessions, or you can search the datatbase of over 3000 local choirs at Big Big Sing. The BBC Find A Choir page lists a range of groups including amateur musical theatre groups and details of funding from the BBC Performing Arts Fund, and there’s also a database of over 4000 groups from British Choirs on the Net.
No matter your taste in music, taking part is scientifically proven to give you a mental, emotional and physical boost.