A study on people affected by cancer may have found something remarkable. Researchers discovered that just one hour of singing in a choir increases protective proteins in the immune system. This is in addition to reducing stress and improving moods. So, is singing good for your health?
My kids certainly don’t think that my singing is responsible for any positive outcomes, but research conducted by Tenovus Cancer Care and the Royal College Of Music may prove otherwise. The researchers studied 193 people who sang in five separate choirs and who have also been affected by cancer. Fifty five of the choir singers were cancer patients, 72 were carers and the remaining 66 were bereaved carers. Every singer gave a sample of saliva before and immediately after one hour of choir practice. When these samples were analyzed, the researchers found increased levels of cytokines, which are proteins that are generated by the body’s immune system.
“We have been building a body of evidence over the past six years to show that singing in a choir can have a range of social, emotional and psychological benefits, and now we can see it has biological effects too.” – Dr Ian Lewis, co-author
The study found that every singer experienced an improvement in mood. However this improvement was not equal. People who tested higher for depression experienced a greater improvement. Anything that can improve our mental health is, in turn, likely to improve our overall health. We already know that poor mental health is associated with higher levels of inflammation. In turn, higher levels of inflammation are associated with serious illnesses. Cytokines play a role both in reducing and raising inflammation levels. The study found that the one-hour choir session led to a reduction in cytokines that increase inflammation and had no effect on the levels of cytokines that reduce inflammation.
Of course, it comes as no surprise that music affects stress and mood levels. Most of us know this instinctively and research has backed it up. A Cochrane review of studies on music therapy and cancer patients confirms that music is effective in reducing stress, improving mood and can also reduce blood pressure. However, this is the first study to show that music therapy, or at least participating in a choir, can boost your immune system as well.
As anyone who has been affected by cancer can attest, the big C can lead to increased stress, anxiety and even depression. It has been shown that these can impair the body’s immune system, at a time when the body needs it the most. Singing may offer a simple and effective means to reverse this.
“Research has demonstrated that [stress, anxiety and depression] can suppress immune activity, at a time when patients need as much support as they can get from their immune system.” – Dr Daisy Fancourt, co-author
The researchers point out that this is a preliminary study of a single session of choir practice. They plan to do a two-year study in the near future to check for longer term outcomes. Also it is unknown how much of the effect is due to actual singing and how much is due to the social aspect of singing in a choir. Keeping an active social life is also an important factor in maintaining your health.
Still, it does sound promising. So if singing makes you feel good, whether you do it in your car in the shower, keep on belting out those tunes. If you feel comfortable doing this in a social setting then even better! Join a choir or sing at family events. You might want to warn your kids first though :-).