One of our cherished memories will always involve singing in groups. Singing with others is a precious joy of life that brings a powerful sense of togetherness and boosts happiness. Singing together makes our bodies healthier and our minds at ease. In fact, according to a new study singing in a choir for just one-hour boosts levels of immune proteins in people affected by cancer, reduces stress, and improves mood, which in turn could have a positive impact on overall health.
According to a new study from Tenovus Cancer Care and the Royal College of Music published today in ecancermedicalscience, singing in a choir for even one hour increases immune protein levels in cancer patients, lowers stress, and elevates mood, all of which may have a positive effect on general health.
According to the research, participating in choir practises may help people get the best possible care, keep their cancer in remission, and encourage those who are fighting it.
Singing for an hour significantly reduces stress hormones
193 participants from five different choirs were assessed for the study. The findings demonstrated that singing for an hour was connected to marked decreases in stress hormones like cortisol and increases in amounts of cytokines, immune system chemicals that can improve the body’s capacity to fight serious illness.
Dr Ian Lewis, Director of Research and Policy at Tenovus Cancer Care and co-author of the research said: “These are really exciting findings. 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.”
“We’ve long heard anecdotal evidence that singing in a choir makes people feel good, but this is the first time it’s been demonstrated that the immune system can be affected by singing. It’s exciting and could enhance the way we support people with cancer in the future,” he added.
Singing is associated with lower levels of inflammation in the body
The study also discovered that the greatest mood improvement related to reduced levels of inflammation in the body and occurred in people with the lowest levels of mental well-being and the highest levels of despair. High levels of inflammation are associated with serious illness.
Before and immediately after an hour of singing, choir members provided saliva samples. The samples were examined to determine what adjustments in several hormones, immunological proteins, neuropeptides, and receptors had taken place.
Singing reduces stress-induced suppression, improves well-being
Dr Daisy Fancourt, Research Associate at the Centre for Performance Science, a partnership between the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London and co-author of the research, said: “Many people affected by cancer can experience psychological difficulties such as stress, anxiety and depression. Research has demonstrated that these can suppress immune activity, at a time when patients need as much support as they can get from their immune systems. This research is exciting as it suggests that an activity as simple as singing could reduce some of this stress-induced suppression, helping to improve wellbeing and quality of life amongst patients and put them in the best position to receive treatment.”
The 64-year-old participant in the study, Diane Raybould, has been a member of the Bridgend Sing with Us choir since 2010. When Diane was 50 years old, she received a breast cancer diagnosis. Her daughter also received a breast cancer diagnosis at the same time, and regrettably, she died at the age of 28. Diane said: “Singing in the choir is about more than just enjoyment, it genuinely makes you feel better. The choir leaders play a huge part of course, but so does the support of the other choir members, the inspirational program, and uplifting songs. The choir is a family, simple as that. Having cancer and losing someone to cancer can be very isolating. With the choir, you can share experiences openly and that is hugely important.”
Singing is great for the mind, body and soul
Rosie Dow, Head of Sing with Us at Tenovus Cancer Care and co-author of the research, added: “This research is so exciting, as it echoes everything all our choir members tell us about how singing has helped them. I’ve seen people’s lives transformed through singing in our choirs so knowing that singing also makes a biological difference will hopefully help us to reach more people with the message that singing is great for you — mind, body, and soul.”
Tenovus Cancer Care is starting a two-year study to further explore the long-term effects of choir singing over several months because of this research. Along with evaluating stress hormones and immune function in cancer patients, carers, staff members, and people who have lost a loved one to the disease, the study will examine patients’ mental health, well-being, social support, and capacity to cope with the disease.
Materials provided by ecancermedicalscience. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Daisy Fancourt, Aaron Williamon, Livia A Carvalho, Andrew Steptoe, Rosie Dow, Ian Lewis. Singing modulates mood, stress, cortisol, cytokine, and neuropeptide activity in cancer patients and carers. ecancermedicalscience, 2016; 10 DOI: 10.3332/ecancer.2016.631
ecancermedicalscience. “Choir singing boosts immune system activity in cancer patients and carers, study shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 April 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160404221004.htm>.
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