A new study finds joining a choir can have health benefits

New research found that singing in a choir helped lower stress levels and increase immune activity in cancer patients and caregivers.

Choir singing

Photo, New York Public Library.

The research

For a study published by eCancer, a journal by the European Institute of Oncology, British researchers tested 193 choir members affected by cancer and found that after 70 minutes of singing, participants had improved mood, decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increases in cytokine activity (a protein involved with the immune system).

The caveat

This study fits into a trend of linking activity to mental and physiological health, says Janet Dancey, director of the Canadian Cancer Clinical Trials group in Kingston, Ont. In choosing regular choir members, the researchers used participants who find joy in singing — which might be the more active factor. “When people do things that they enjoy, it makes them feel better,” says Dancey. “And when people feel better, the biochemical manifestation of that is reduction in stress hormones and improvement of the immune system.”

It could simply be that doing hobbies or socializing that reduced stress and improved the participants’ moods — and not the act of singing itself. It’s already known from previous research that having good social networks improves mood and wellbeing, otherwise known as psychosocial health. “The results may be specific to singing and music or it may be the social aspect in general, we don’t really know that from this study.”

Before we start prescribing singing in general, consider the context of the study — social singing. “What happens if they’re doing competitive singing or performance singing? That could have an additional layering of stress.” The researchers also only assessed the effects on the participants immediately after one singing session; there needs to be further study to determine if the effects are long-term.

The take-away

If you’re self-conscious about singing in front of others and find it stressful, don’t bother. If you have another hobby that makes you relaxed and happy, it may have the same effect.

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