A Christmas carol for lung health

Singing carols at Christmas is a pleasure enjoyed by many, but singing of all kinds can be a health boon too – especially when it comes to lung disease. As well as improving morale and ‘feel good factor’ singing regularly as part of an organised group can have a range of positive effects brought about by better breath control and better posture

According to a new report, The ‘Singing for Lung Health’ (SLH) Systematic Review and Consensus Statement, singing can help people with lung disease to control their breathing better. Written by a group including respiratory physicians, physiotherapists, nurses, health psychologists and music therapists, the report outlines the fact that the benefits of singing can be considered in three broad categories: physical, psychological and social. It’s based on a review of research studies on the subject.

Someone with an obstructive airways disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), will often need to take constant ‘top-up’ breaths from their upper chest. Singing for lung health can help to improve this. Key to success, however, is that the classes are led by a singing teacher with relevant training. This ensures that classes are not just a fun social activity, but also help singers with lung problems to gain greater control over their breathing.

Patients consistently report singing for breathing helps them cope with their lung condition better. This research reveals increasing evidence that singing regularly as part of a group has the potential to improve health-related quality of life, particularly related to physical health, and levels of anxiety without causing side effects.

The social aspect is very important too. People with COPD and other types of lung disease often feel very isolated because of their condition. This is a good way to ensure that they get out and meet other people who may be facing similar challenges.

There’s been a huge increase in singing for lung health groups across the UK, thanks to organisations like the British Lung Foundation. These are choirs which welcome people who may cough or need to take a rest from time to time.

Guided singing could be utilised more alongside other measures in pulmonary rehabilitation classes. In pulmonary rehabilitation, people take part in supervised exercise for a period of 6-8 weeks to help improve their fitness and ability to cope with their lung disease. There is strong evidence that rehab is one of the highest value treatments for patients.

Although encouraging, so far clinical trials of singing for lung health have been fairly small and short term. We still need more clinical evidence to show what the long-term effects are and develop a sound evidence base. Fundraising so we can support more trials into how singing affects respiratory health is one of our goals so we can make the case for a nationwide programme to bring singing into the lives of people with lung disease.

There are 1.2 million people in the UK living with a diagnosis of COPD. Around one in five of the UK population (12 million people) will receive a diagnosis of lung disease during their lifetime.

For further information on the British Lung Foundation’s singing for lung health groups, visit: www.blf.org.uk/singing

Dr Nicholas Hopkinson
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