Hallelujah! Caroling Is Good for Your Health

“Deep and diaphragmatic breathing … not only has all the psychological benefits that we know about, but also serves to calm to the mind and allow one to focus,” she says. “The message of present focus that is so intrinsic to yoga I think translates directly to singing and performing.” 

The physical benefits of singing go deeper.

In one of Horn’s favorite studies, published in 2004 in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, researchers measured choir members’ immune function before and after a rehearsal by taking a swab of their saliva. They found that singing boosted their immune function and mood, while just listening to the music didn’t. The kicker? The choir was singing Mozart’s “Requiem”​ – an infamously sullen piece. “Even singing about death is good for you,” says Horn, author of “Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing With Others.”

Singing also appears to increase pain tolerance by releasing endorphins. A 2012 study published in Evolutionary Psychology probed whether that effect is more attributable to listening to music or performing it. Researchers’ findings supported the latter, concluding that singing – as well as drumming and dancing – boosted participants’ threshold for pain whereas just listening to music or engaging in another type of group activity like a nonmusical religious service​ didn’t. Singing also boosted mood, the study found.

That comes as no surprise to Horn, who’s attended choir rehearsals after family, friends and pets have died. “Whatever mood I’m in when I walk into a choir rehearsal … I will always walk out feeling better,” she says. “So the fact that the body releases all of these chemicals that have to do with managing stress and relieving anxiety just [don’t] surprise me because my experience confirms that.”

Greater Than the Sum of the Parts

Caroling with a group, too, has benefits over belting “All I Want for Christmas Is You” while baking cookies alone. One​ study​​ presented last year at the British Psychological Society Division of Clinical Psychology annual meeting in York found that singers report high levels of well-being​ similar to members of sports teams, but people who sing in choirs reported even higher well-being than those who sing alone.

That makes sense, since social connectedness is “one of the major aspects of mental and physical health,” says Hays, who sings with the Orpheus Choir of Toronto. “To feel a sense of a connection with others has been tied to decreased physical health problems, increased sense of well-being, decreased depression, you name it.”

The best news? You don’t even have to be a good singer to reap the benefits. One 2005 study in the journal Psychology of Music studied a homeless men’s choir and concluded that “singing and performance, at the most amateur levels of musicality, yielded considerable emotional, social and cognitive benefits,” the researchers wrote.

“​The benefit comes from getting out and doing something with other people,” rather than from singing like an angel, Sims says​. “I think the fun and enjoying it and being around some other folks is worth being off-pitch a little bit.” 

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