Many people living with chronic lung diseases, like COPD or asthma, may experience symptoms like shortness of breath even after using effective treatments like medication, smoking cessation and pulmonary rehabilitation. Music therapy is an emerging therapeutic area and while more research is needed, it may offer psychological, physical and social benefits to people living with a chronic lung disease. Choir singing specifically may improve symptoms and health-related quality of life of those living with a chronic lung disease.

Singing is Controlled Breathing

Because singing is something most people learn to do when they are children and is often incorporated into social experiences like singing in a choir or chorus, many people may not realize just home complex an activity it is. But if you really analyze it, your body’s tongue, soft palate, larynx, lungs are just some of the many body parts that need to work together to make singing possible. Singing, especially in a group setting, requires adjustment of pitch, and volume, made possible by correct posture and breathing support, and learning music by ear.

At first thought, it may seem like holding long notes and limiting breath is contradictory to improving their lung health for people with chronic lung disease. But research has shown that ‘singing for breathing’ may have some benefits. A group of studies followed people with COPD for eight weeks who participated in 30-minute breathing control education provided by a physiotherapist and twice a week, 1-hour group singing classes led by a singing teacher. At the end of that time, these people explained that the practice had helped improve their knowledge of breathing, improved breathing control which overall helped them complete everyday activities, like doing housework, more easily.

If you think about it, it makes sense. Many people with COPD or asthma use breathing exercises as one way to manage their symptoms. These exercises encourage using the diaphragm for breathing instead of other muscles like the neck or chest. Like when you are trying to hold a note in singing, breathing exercises also focus on slowing and holding breaths. “Singing for Breathing” is a program led by a singing teacher that incorporates techniques like breathing control and posture in an hour-long class that not only brings together people with chronic lung diseases for singing classes but to offer support for each other.

One well-known breathing technique taught in pulmonary rehabilitation is ‘pursed lip’ breathing, in which the lips are partially closed during an exhalation to slow the flow of air, which maintains the pressure to keep the airways open. “Singing is essentially modified pursed lip breathing,” says Vince Tedjasaputra, PhD, the Lung Association’s Director of Scientific Communication, continuing “singers learn to control the flow of exhaled air to modulate pitch and tone, and the increased airway pressure would certainly help patients with COPD keep their airways open, just like pursed lip breathing.”

Learn more about how other instruments can improve lung function.
Read More

Singing for Well-Being

Living with a chronic lung condition can take its toll not only on your physical health, but on your emotional health as well. Depression and anxiety are common comorbidities for people with COPD. In fact, people living with COPD are two times more likely to have anxiety and depression compared to people without COPD.

To manage anxiety or depression, your healthcare provider may recommend medication, therapy and coping strategies. Some of these coping strategies may include breathing exercises, social support or exercise. Music therapy may be another example of a coping strategy and a way to find support from others. “Singing in public can be intimidating, especially if you are living with lung disease. But if the person sitting next to you is also living with lung disease, it can be a shared experience of learning and belonging,” says Tedjasaputra, who has been singing in choirs for 25 years. “It can help grow a bond and new friendships that patients can look forward to every week.”

One in-depth study found that group singing therapy may help decrease depressive symptoms and improve health-related quality of life. It also found beneficial effects of group singing therapy increased with the duration of therapy. “A lot of people with lung diseases suffer from depression because there are lots of things we can’t do any more that we used to do and enjoy. Coming here’s not just good for the physical health but for the mental health,” said one participant of the British Lung Foundation’s Singing for Lung Health program.

Freedom From Smoking Clinic - Richmond, VA
Richmond, VA | Sep 03, 2024
COPD Educator Course
, | Oct 17, 2024