The science of singing

By Wendy Sadler
Singer

Image courtesy of Sing & Inspire

I’ve recently joined the amazing Cardiff University Inspire Choir, run by the lovely people at Sing and Inspire. It’s a struggle to justify an hour out of a busy working day for what feels like a bit of fun, but every week I have been amazed by the dramatic way those 60 minutes affect me. Being a scientist I couldn’t resist doing some research into the science of singing to see why it was making me feel so great!

Researchers have worked out that singing seems to produce the perfect mix of both calming and energising based on what it does to the brain. Sounds good to me.

Endorphins

The first candidate for my feel-good sensation is the fact that singing has been shown to release endorphins in the brain. An endorphin is a chemical that works by blocking the cells responsible for pain and certain emotions. The second part of the word; ‘orphin’ hints at the power of these things whilst ‘endo’ is short for endogenous which means ‘from inside the body’. So the word ‘Endorphin’ literally means a morphine-like chemical produced inside the body. The detection of endorphins by the brain are one of the ways we know when we’ve had enough of a good thing and we should stop! Some scientists think that a lack of natural endorphins could be to blame for OCD-type illness where some people literally don’t get the signal to stop and continue washing hands beyond the point that it is good for them (for example).

Endorphins could also be responsible for the benefits patients often report which is known as the placebo effect. Being treated by someone, even if only with a sugar pill that we believe will make us better, can be enough to release endorphins in the brain which then do make you feel better!

Oxytocin

The second culprit for my stupid grin as I leave choir is the lovely ‘oxytocin’. Now anyone who has had children has first hand experience of how great this can be to you. It’s sometimes known as the ‘love drug’ or the ‘cuddle hormone’ as it is known to increase feelings of love and trust in those around you. Singing has been shown to increase the levels of oxytocin in your brain. This just gets better!

Combined with the health benefits of breathing well, and being part of a community working together on something, this all adds up to very good news for choir members – and it doesn’t matter whether you are actually a good singer or not!

Sing and Inspire also run a choir for Tenovus Cancer Care, and they have found phenomenal results with their choir for those affected by Cancer.

So if you’re ever struggling to justify that hour off to sing your little hearts out, show your boss the hard evidence to prove that it’s very likely to make you a healthier and happier employee. I know I am certainly more productive on a Tuesday afternoon because of it…!

You can catch the choir in action here. Do come and join in the fun every Tuesday 1pm – 2pm if you’re a Cardiff University person, or look out for any choir near you to start reaping those health benefits for yourself.

 

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Posted in Biology, Exploring Science