A new study shows choir singers don’t just harmonize, but they also synchronize their heartbeats when they sing. Scientists liken the breathing associated with choral singing to that of yoga.
The finding that comes from researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy at Gothenburg University in Sweden also found a singing slows the heartbeat, which means singing could also be beneficial for heart health.
When we inhale and exhale it stimulates the vagus nerve that is part of the sympathetic nervous system that also controls our blood pressure and heart rate. The sympathetic nervous system is what is responsible for “fight or flight”.
Background information from the study published in the journal Frontiers in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience states choir singing is known to promote a sense of well-being.
Breathing slower to sing has a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system that also produces a calming effect. Researchers speculate it might be the type of breathing needed for singing that affects heart rate activity.
For their study, researchers looked at how singing affects heart rate variability (HRV) in combination with breathing called Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA).
The investigation included 18 healthy participants, both male and female.
The participants were asked to either hum a single tone and breathe whenever they needed, sing a hymn with undying breathing or sing a slow mantra and breathe only between phrases.
The researchers measured the singer’s heart rate throughout the experiment.
"So when you are singing, you are singing on the air when you are exhaling so the heart rate would go down. And between the phrases you have to inhale and the pulse will go up. If this is so then heart rate would follow the structure of the song or the phrases, and this is what we measured and this is what we confirmed,” Dr Bjorn Vickhoff from the Swedish University said.
The finding also revealed more structured songs synchronize choir singer's heartbeats even more, such as chants.
Next the researchers hope to study the beneficial effects of singing on health. The type of breathing required for singing mimics yoga breathing that is shown to tone the blood vessels to ward off hypertension.
By the same token, laughter yoga is also beneficial for the cardiovascular system and also shown to lower one’s blood pressure, possibly from the same type of innervation of the vagus nerve.
The goal of the researchers is to find new forms of singing that could be used for medical care such as rehabilitation and disease prevention.
It might also promote collaboration through a shared mental perspective, which is something the researchers also wish to explore.
Vickhoff said in a press release: “One need only think of football stadiums, work songs, hymn singing at school, festival processions, religious choirs or military parades. Research shows that synchronized rites contribute to group solidarity. We are now considering testing choral singing as a means of strengthening working relationships in schools,”
The finding shows choir singers synchronize their heart rates when they make melodies; especially chants. Singing has an overall beneficial effect of lowering the heart rate and might be useful to improve health, pending more studies.