GOOD MORNING: Singing in good for your heart, mind

By Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Jerrie Whiteley

Those of you who have had the experience of seeing me out driving around in my vehicle have probably noticed that I am singing. I sing almost constantly when I am driving. Sometimes it is low and under my breath, particularly if I have a passenger. Other times, I am belting it out like Streisand at Carnegie Hall. 

Unfortunately, I don't sound like Streisand at Carnegie Hall, but that doesn't matter much to me. Science has proven what I have always felt deep in my bones — singing is good for you. It can reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

“There is a singing network in the brain [which is] quite broadly distributed,” said Sarah Wilson in a May 2020 article for the BBC. "When we speak, the hemisphere of the brain dealing with language lights up, as we might expect. When we sing, however, both sides of the brain spark into life.

Wilson, a clinical neuropsychologist and head of the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne, led a study which looked at how the brain reacts when  people sing by giving volunteers of varying vocal ability MRI scans as they sang.

“We also see involvement of the emotion networks of the brain,” adds Wilson. Regions that control the movements we need to produce sounds and articulation also light up," Wilson said.

Study after study has found that singing, playing music and even just listening to music do far more than entertain us. Our bodies respond physically to the music. The response varies depending on whether we are are actually producing the music or merely listening to it and what kind of music it is, but the response are there and they are mostly positive. Even super sad songs which might make us cry but us in touch with emotions that we might be subconsciously trying to avoid feeling and gives us a way to express them that is non threatening and less scary.

But back to the singing. The act of singing —filling the lungs with fresh air, controlling the vocal chords, moving the mouth and body — is all aerobic activity that causes the body to release endorphins. 

So it isn't just the subject matter of those Bon Jovi songs that make me feel better after I sing along to a few of them as I drive down the road. It is what my body is doing while I am singing causing my mind to find its own little bursts of antidepressants. 

Ever have a really bad day going so you take a quick drive and then feel better? I bet you listened to music while you drove and that you sang along with it. Of course, you don't have to get in the car for this to work. You can sit at your desk and sing along to something that makes you happy. I wouldn't advise that if you work in an office with other people. We once had two ladies in our newsroom that I feared might come to words over one's propensity to hum while working and the other's inability to ignore. Earphones, I think, finally worked the problem out. 

But for those stuck at home alone, one good way to manage the stress of that situation might be singing along to something good on the radio or whatever one uses for music these days. Does anyone have a radio at home anymore? 

Jerrie Whiteley is the Criminal Justice Editor for the Herald Democrat. She can be reached at JWhiteley@HeraldDemocrat.com.