Birds sing. Whales sing. Frogs and toadfish do, too. Unlike humans, they do it naturally and don’t join choirs or compete for prizes. Indeed, television shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice” make good sport of judging who can sing the best. In truth, about 50 percent of people can passably carry a tune for various and sundry reasons including genetics, muscle and breath control, and lots and lots of practice.
Archeological evidence shows that the first musical instruments showed up around 40,000 years ago. But long before that, about 530,000 years ago, the human voice gained its full vocal range, enabling homo sapiens to sing.
Scientists have various theories as to why early mankind began to sing. Darwin believed it was for males to attract mates, but that doesn’t explain why females can also sing, and his theory has fallen out of fashion. Others believe singing or “vocal grooming” helped to broadcast one’s emotional state in order to keep social groups united. Most agree that singing cemented social ties on a large scale.
Another interesting hypothesis is that, unlike primates, human babies don’t physically cling to their mother as she’s going about her business. Even the earliest human mothers had to put their babies down to accomplish other tasks, and “motherese” (sing-song baby talk) developed in order to reassure infants and let them know that mom was still there.
Whatever the reason we warble, it’s decidedly great fun and enjoyable for most, whether we’re on stage or just singing along in the audience. Singing also has some surprising physical and mental health benefits, particularly for seniors. In fact, a McGill University study found that singing “significantly improves psychological health and well-being through the engagement of neurochemical systems responsible for reward, motivation, pleasure, stress/arousal, immunity and social affiliation.”
Let’s take a closer look.
Benefits of Singing
Stress relief. Singing releases endorphins in the body and other feel-good chemicals that help alleviate anxiety, stress and depression. Singing also inspires others to sing, dance or clap along, further fueling the happy hormones produced in the brain.
Increased immunity. A test study out of the University of Frankfurt showed that singing boosts the immune system. Researchers found that antibodies in the blood of choir members were significantly higher after rehearsal than before. The study also revealed that passively listening to music, rather than singing, had no measurable effect on immunity.
Cardiopulmonary workout. Singing stimulates circulation and improves oxygenation of the blood. It also strengthens the diaphragm, while vocal projections increase lung capacity. Vocalizing in song requires more air to be pulled into the lungs; thus, singing can even be considered an aerobic activity.
Improved memory and mental acuity. Following rhythm, rests and vocal entrances stimulates neurons and requires concentration. This is especially important to older adults, who are prone to memory loss, Alzheimer’s and dementia. Singing a familiar tune also rouses the memory center of the brain in a positive way.
Increased confidence. It’s not easy to get up in front of others and sing. Seniors are especially prone to dips in self-esteem as their minds and bodies begin to decline. Singing in a choir, with a caroling group, or especially within the friendly, accepting context of karaoke can be enormously validating.
Socialization. Research by a noted psychologist revealed that people who sing together in a group, as opposed to solo singing, have a greater sense of unity than when they’re engaged in other social activities. What’s more, a song can evoke deep feelings, opening the lines of communication and connection with others for whom it may also have meaning.
Singing at Eastcastle Place
At Eastcastle, we embrace the multiple benefits of singing. That’s why our talented Castle Choir is so active and engaged, especially around the holidays. And for those residents who want to croon a tune, or just watch their friends and clap along, we’re having a post-Thanksgiving karaoke event that is sure to hit all the right notes.
Who knows? A star may be born!