The Health Benefits of Holiday Singing

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One of the most magical things about the holidays is the music. It's a special genre that we are able to enjoy just once a year, and it tends to define the atmosphere of the season in a way that nothing else can.

There are many ways in which we can engage with the music of the holidays, but arguably one of the best ways is to sing along with the ones you love, preferably while roasting chestnuts on an open fire.

The Vocal System
The voice is a complex system. It begins with your breathing, which provides the energy for the system. By taking a deep breath and filling up your lungs before you open your mouth, you are setting up your voice for success.

The next part of the system is the larynx (or "voice box"), which contains vocal folds ("vocal cords"). The larynx coordinates with your breathing, causing the vocal folds to vibrate and creating sound for your voice.

Finally, the rest of the throat, mouth, and even the nasal cavity contribute to your voice by providing an echo chamber to amplify the sound and form the sound into words.

Keeping Your Voice Limber
In general, singing is a healthy thing to do because it engages all parts of the vocal system. For example, you would find it hard to sing or even to sustain a note if you aren't supporting your voice with enough breath.

Many voice disorders can improve or nearly normalize with voice therapy, which sometimes incorporates singing tasks to optimize patients' voices. One of the reasons this occurs is that when you sing--and really "go for it"--you take deep breaths and often, without even thinking about it, improve the breath support behind your voice.

Sometimes this “re-energizing” of the system can significantly improve voice quality. In fact, a recent study found that singing may provide some protection against some of the changes in the voice that often occur through the aging process.

Oh, What Fun!
On a broader level, the medical community is beginning to understand that singing in groups may, in fact, provide health benefits that extend beyond the voice itself. Several low-power studies have suggested that group singing may benefit a variety of patients, including those with chronic respiratory disease, some neurological conditions, and mental health disorders.

Investigators cite improvement in health-related quality of life scores as well as subjective improvements in self-confidence, mood, and social connectedness.

Vocal Safety
In general, singing is a safe and enjoyable activity. However, it is important to mention the potential adverse effects of singing incorrectly or with too much vocal strain. Belting or singing loudly without proper training or technique can cause unnecessary muscle tension or even cause irregularities on the vocal folds, which can result in a rough, strained, or breathy voice or which can make talking or singing very fatiguing.

If you experience any of these symptoms for over two weeks, it is worth seeking the advice of an otorhinolaryngologist ("ENT doctor") with interest in voice disorders to determine how to address the problem. Part of your care plan may involve evaluation and treatment by a speech-language pathologist with voice expertise.

Contributing authors: Jeffrey P. Marino, MD & Judith Fornadley, MS, CCC-SLP at the Voice Center

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