Choir singing regulates heart beat–study

That singing in a choir is uplifting and can help improve mood is a well established health benefit. Now a new study claims it may be good for the heart too.

According to experts, singing requires a calm and regular breathing pattern which can reduce the inconsistency of a heartbeat which, in turn, may have a favorable effect on health.

Lead researcher Dr Björn Vickhoff from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden stated, “Our hypothesis is that song is a form of regular, controlled breathing, since breathing out occurs on the song phrases and inhaling takes place between these.

“Every heartbeat, a person’s pulse is going up and down. For younger, healthier people, there is a greater variability and a smoother, more pronounced beat. And this heart rate variability is a predictor for heart disease and risk.

“When you are singing, the heartbeat for the whole group is going up and down simultaneously. It gives you pretty much the same effect as yoga breathing. It helps you relax, and there are indications that it does provide a heart benefit.”

Study details
The study was designed to find medical therapies using choir singing and to explore the effect of music on collective human behaviors. Researchers enrolled fifteen 18-year-olds at Hvitfeltska High School in Gothenburg who were members of a high school choir.

The subjects were asked to perform three different choral exercises – monotone humming, singing a Swedish hymn and chanting a slow mantra while their heart rates were monitored.

Outcome of the study
It was observed that the music”s melody and structure had a direct effect on their hearts. Singing in union synchronized their heartbeats, which grew faster and slower at the same time as they breathed in and out. Songs with long phrases achieve the same effect as breathing exercises in yoga.

Bjorn Vickhoff explained, “Singing regulates activity in the so-called vagus nerve, which is involved in our emotional life and our communication with others and which, for example, affects our vocal timbre. Songs with long phrases achieve the same effect as breathing exercises in yoga. In other words, through song we can exercise a certain control over mental states.

“We already know that choral singing synchronises the singers’ muscular movements and neural activities in large parts of the body. Now we also know that this applies to the heart, to a large extent.”

The study is published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Originally published on July 10, 2013.