Singing for lung health

How can singing improve my breathing?

Over the last ten years, researchers have looked at how your body and mind respond to music and explored ways of using music as part of caring for your health.

Over the last ten years, researchers have looked at how your body and mind respond to music, and have explored ways of using music to help care for health. There’s increasing evidence that singing regularly as part of a group is good for your general health and wellbeing.

A growing body of research suggests that group singing is especially good for people living with a long-term lung condition.

Singing can:

Singing for lung health

  • improve health-related quality of life
  • be a fun group activity to reduce social isolation and loneliness
  • help improve your posture
  • increase the strength of your voice

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who join singing groups say that singing regularly: 

  • reduces their feelings of being short of breath
  • helps them to feel more in control of their breathing
  • helps them to manage their symptoms better

Across the UK there are now singing groups for people with lung conditions. The singing leaders who run these groups have been trained to run singing sessions that are designed to help manage your feelings of breathlessness. Other non-specialist singing groups may also be enjoyable and useful, but may not provide the full range of techniques to help you manage your lung condition better.

Using music

When we sing, you focus on the song’s words and melody. When you’re lost in the music, you don’t consciously think about your breathing. Our singing leaders select songs carefully to support and improve how you breathe.

Why does singing help my breathing?

“After about 10 minutes I’m able to switch my oxygen off because I feel as if I’ve got more control over my breathing.” Lynne

 

Many people with lung conditions say that singing helps them to feel less short of breath and more in control of their breathing. There are three main ways that singing can help:

  • teaching you to breathe more slowly and deeply
  • improving the sense of control over your breathing, reducing anxiety and panic
  • improving your posture to help you breathe 

“The course has certainly made me more aware of my breathing and how I breathe and how I can improve my breathing ….there is more to singing and breathing than I ever thought possible.” Margaret

Breathing more slowly and deeply

In some lung conditions, like COPD, your airways are narrowed or obstructed. This can make it difficult to empty air out of your lungs when you breathe out, and air gets trapped in your lungs.

If you don’t empty your lungs effectively, you’ll only be able to ‘top up’ your breath – using the top of your chest to breathe, instead of your whole lungs. This uses muscles in your neck and shoulders which can get tired quickly.

Singing long phrases helps you lengthen your out-breath to empty your lungs. This helps to reduce the amount that you use muscles in your neck and shoulders when you take your next breath in. This saves energy and makes breathing more comfortable.

Strengthening your breathing muscles

Singing for lung health leaders teach techniques to help you use your abdominal muscles more effectively when you sing. This can make your breathing at other times more efficient too.

 

“All the conditioning for your voice and your lungs is separate – suddenly it's the whole body doing it, and it was like ‘ah, I can use everything’!  The power is not lost just because your lungs are not working properly, you have got power everywhere in your body, so thank you very much.” Jeannie

How singing can help your symptoms

Symptom How the session helps Benefits
If your voice is breathy, or you’re hoarse or your vocal muscles are weaker  Exploring the reasons for the breathy sound. This may be due to poor posture or using either too much or too little air when you sing or speak. This can tire your voice, so you’ll learn how to make a safe and stronger sound when you speak or sing Your vocal strength and stamina will get better and you’ll have more control over your speaking voice
You feel out of breath and worry about getting out of breath

Using songs that you enjoy singing with long phrases

Exercises that encourage you to take a relaxed breath in with a soft belly, and then a long, slow breath out as you allow the tummy to move inwards

Songs that encourage you to breathe out completely then breathe in quickly

You’ll feel more in control of your breathing 

You’ll learn techniques to breathe more efficiently

Coughing when you breathe in and out Learn techniques such as breathing in through your nose

Less coughing by avoiding triggers such as breathing in cold air through your mouth

Feeling weak and so moving around less Showing you good positions to sing in

Rhythmic movements such as clapping or stepping

Incorporating movement with singing and strengthening optimal postures to help you breathe and sing better
Increasing your awareness of your core strength using your whole body to sing to strengthen muscles and improving your mobility

“It’s given them much better quality of life, they’ve improved their lung capacity, some of them don’t tend to get any exacerbations [also called flare-ups] of their COPD anymore and they’re using their inhalers less.” Linda, COPD clinical nurse specialist

Most of the research that’s been done so far has been with people living with COPD. But people living with other lung conditions such as asthma and pulmonary fibrosis may also benefit from joining a singing group.

BLF singing for lung health group leaders aren’t necessarily health care professionals. They have all received quality assured training. However, should you have a chest infection or have other concerns about your health it is best to discuss these with your GP.

“For people with lung conditions, the breath is often a barrier to living. When we sing, the breath enables creation of something new, promoting life not inhibiting it. It is the barrier that is forgotten, not the breath.” Ruby, singing leader

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Download our singing for lung health PDF (278KB)

Last medically reviewed: September 2017. Due for review: September 2020

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.