10 Ways to Reap the Health Benefits of Singing

Looking for a fun way to get healthy? Just open your mouth! It turns out that singing has numerous health benefits. Some studies have shown that singing can even surpass the effects of yoga on your heart rate, breathing and general well-being. It has also been shown to be a helpful treatment for depression, anxiety and fatigue. When it comes to actually producing the best sound, your breath has to come from your diaphragm. You need to be sitting or standing straight, with relaxed shoulders, neck and face muscles, pushing the air up through your vocal cords into your facial cavity. Some are able to do this more naturally than others. The human voice is the first and most basic musical instrument. It doesn’t cost a thing -- one reason, perhaps, for the amazing vocal virtuosity that has come out of impoverished communities from Soweto to Wales to the Mississippi Delta. You don’t have to be an opera singer or pop star to have fun with your own instrument. Read on for some suggestions to get you singing and feeling healthy.

1. Karaoke

Not surprisingly, studies showing the health benefits of karaoke originate in Japan, the birthplace of this now almost worldwide entertainment activity. In a study of 19,356 men ages 40 to 69, Professor Takeshi Tanigawa of Ehime University Graduate School of Medicine found that karaoke reduced stress and was associated with a lower risk of stroke and heart disease. Tanigawa said karaoke bars are a good way to cope with stress, adding that the deep breathing used while singing is good for the nervous system. The benefits come with the combination of singing, moderate alcohol consumption and the social support and approval of friends.

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2. In the Car

More Americans sing in their cars than in the shower, according to a survey of more than 1,000 drivers by Directive Analytics -- more than nine out of 10, in fact. Singing while driving is a cool way to alleviate boredom on long road trips or on the way to school with grumpy children. Let them take turns deciding what to sing. For the long hauls, fire up Spotify or Pandora and belt out your favorites. Driving by yourself, you get the chance to really cut loose without the potential embarrassment of not quite hitting that high note. If you’re a bit flat, just start over. You’ve still got a few hours to go, right?

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3. Community Chorus

Choral groups may well offer the most therapeutic value out of all the many ways to sing. Numerous studies have documented this, including one from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, which found that choral singing produced many of the same effects as yoga. Blending your voice with others -- essentially becoming part of one large instrument -- delivers both emotional and physical benefits. Many communities support choral groups, from the renowned New York Choral Society to small pickup choirs. To join one of the serious groups, you’ll need to audition and be pretty good at reading music. But many community choirs welcome all comers -- as long as you’re willing to learn and show up for rehearsals.

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4. A Cappella Groups

A cappella singing -- harmonizing without accompaniment -- has taken off in recent years, especially on college campuses, where it’s reached the level of a competitive sport. If you’re a student, don’t hesitate to try out. You could end up having the experience of a lifetime as well as honing your musical ear and your vocal skills. If you’re not in school, there are still plenty of amateur groups in most communities, and the good news is that they perform in a wide range of styles, from old-timey barbershop quartets to doo-wop to early sacred music. A good place to start is the Contemporary A Cappella Society (CASA).

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5. Church Choir

This is a great outlet for amateurs who want the challenge of singing great music and blending harmonies with like-minded souls. Much of the gorgeous choral music written through the ages was composed on religious themes and fashioned to accompany worship services. A 2013 study published in the journal Psychology of Music found that singing in a church choir significantly reduced anxiety, and a British survey of nearly 400 people found that choir members got more mental-health benefits than people who played on sports teams. Most churches offer a range of musical styles, from gospel to Bach, and church choir directors are often accomplished musicians who are eager to share their knowledge. It’s one way to get a free musical education while making a joyful noise.

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6. In the Shower

Although more people sing in the car than in the shower, the shower is still a pretty good (and private) venue to flex your vocal cords. The enclosed space -- often tiled -- provides great acoustics. The hard, smooth surfaces reflect the sound, which gives your voice more intensity. The sound reverberates as it bounces back and forth inside the shower stall, resulting in a richer tone. A typical shower stall also produces a natural bass boost, amplifying the lower tones. The warm water relaxes your body, and the steam has a wonderful effect on your vocal cords. Plus, a study at the University of Frankfurt in Germany showed that singing also boosts the immune system. So close your eyes. You’re debuting at the Met. Or on “American Idol.”

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7. Voice Lessons

Maybe you’ve decided you really want to get serious about this. Get yourself a coach. Like any physical skill, singing well rarely comes naturally. A good voice coach can show you how your body produces the best sound, teaching you how to breathe properly and how to aim that air flow through your vocal cords into your “vocal tract.” If there’s a performing-arts school or college in your area, that’s a good place to start looking for a teacher. Serious voice students can often make money on the side. There are also online courses. Berklee College of Music, one of the country’s premier music schools, offers an online course in vocal technique. You don’t have to be a professional-level singer to get the health benefits of singing lessons either. A 2013 study published in the journal Integrative and Behavioral Science found amateurs taking regular voice lessons actually got more benefits in general well-being than professionals did.

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8. Form a Band

Or join one. Yes, it takes some guts, but you can do it! Look on community bulletin boards, on the “Gigs” section of Craigslist or in community newspapers. If you’re already singing in a church or community chorus, you may meet folks who are interested in doing other kinds of music in a more casual setting 2. Many bands or smaller musical groups are formed this way. One caveat: If you’re into loud rock, be careful -- it’s easy to strain your vocal cords. Michael Mayer, a Minneapolis-based vocal-function expert, offers a few tips: Many bands doing sound checks bring in the vocals last. The vocal levels need to be set first, he cautions, so the singer is not straining to be heard over the band. “If you break a guitar string, you can just replace it,” he notes, “but the singer is the only instrument in the band that’s susceptible to injury.” Second, Mayer says, learn how to use your voice. Get some training. “This might sound funny because rock singing is maybe the most anti-rules type of singing there is,” he says. “But it is this very nature of rock singing that makes it the most demanding.”

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9. Musical Theater

Ever dreamed of being Maria in “West Side Story”? What’s stopping you? Most communities have amateur theater companies that are always looking for talent. This is an awesome way to have fun with your voice while honing your acting skills and bonding with your fellow cast members. Lifelong relationships are often forged in these groups. When auditioning, voice coach Michael Mayer advises, “Actually say the things you’re singing. You really want to try to mean what you’re saying.” Many people, he notes, tend to lose that connection when they sing, but there’s a neural connection between the brain and the voice that allows your voice to function better when it’s emotionally engaged. “Always be aware of being sincere in what you’re singing,” he counsels. Community newspapers, bulletin boards and Craigslist often carry notices about auditions.

10. Open Mic

There are open-mic nights in just about every community. Go and listen for a few sessions, and you’ll quickly realize that you don’t have to be Beyonce or Michael Buble to get up and share your talent. Get an inexpensive microphone and amplifier and practice some at home. “It takes some getting used to,” voice coach Michael Mayer notes. “Singing into a microphone can be deceptive; it can throw us because the sound is so much stronger. That can make us be timid or shy. We might sing out of tune or get tense because of that. Test yourself so you can sing normally and not come blasting through the monitors; experiment with your distance from the microphone.”

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What Do YOU Think?

If you’re too shy to go out in public, start in the shower! Open those pipes as often as possible, and we guarantee you’ll literally start to feel the good vibrations because singing releases the same feel-good endorphins that come with exercise. Do you sing? If so, where do you do it? Do you croon in the car 2? Are you a fan or foe of karaoke? Have you ever been in a band or chorus? Leave a comment below and tell us about it. We’d love to know!

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