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Singing for Lung Health: Combatting Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease with Song

lungs and music
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Singing for Lung Health: Combatting Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease with Song

Several controlled scientific group studies have been undertaken during the last few years to test, observe, and quantify the theory that singing is not only good for general health and well-being, but that singing can be effective as a form of pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) to strengthen the respiratory muscles (1) particularly for people with Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

According to the NHS website, COPD is a common condition that mainly affects middle-aged or older adults who smoke. Many people do not realise they have it.

What is Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

COPD is a collective term given to a group of long-lasting and often incurable and progressive lung diseases that affect airflow and respiration, causing shortness of breath, chest infections, and persistent chesty cough, phlegm, and wheezing.

Commonly-associated conditions include pulmonary emphysema (enlarged and / or damaged air sacs in the lungs) and chronic bronchitis (inflamed airways in the lungs).

Decreased respiratory function tends to lead to a drop physical and mental activities, reducing quality of life and often leading to depression and anxiety (1).

The breathing problems tend to get gradually worse over time and can limit normal activities, although treatment can help keep the condition under control.

Singing and Breathing

Breathing and singing involve many common physiological processes, and thus Singing for Lung Health (SLH) is often recommended as an “intervention” or therapy (2). SLH is an “arts-based breathing control and movement intervention for people with long-term respiratory conditions, intended to improve symptoms and quality of life” (3).

Thus, singing has become an increasingly popular activity for people with COPD, and it is considered on a par with physical exercise such as walking (4). However, while studies clearly recognise the short-term improvement of lung and respiratory function, further studies are needed to fully understand the relationship between singing and COPD (4).

References

1. Fang X, Qiao Z, Yu X, Tian R, Liu K, Han W. (2022). Effect of Singing on Symptoms in Stable COPD: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease17, 2893–2904. 

2. Lewis A, Philip KEJ, Lound A, Cave P, Russell J, Hopkinson NS. The physiology of singing and implications for ‘Singing for Lung Health’ as a therapy for individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. BMJ Open Respir Res. 2021 Nov;8(1):e000996. doi: 10.1136/bmjresp-2021-000996. PMID: 34764199; PMCID: PMC8587358.

3. Kaasgaard M, Rasmussen DB, Løkke A, et al. Physiological changes related to 10 weeks of singing for lung health in patients with COPD. BMJ Open Respiratory Research 2022;9:e001206. doi: 10.1136/bmjresp-2022-001206

4. Philip KEJ, Buttery SC, Bowen S, et al. Singing for lung health in COPD: A multicentre randomised controlled trial of online delivery. BMJ Open Respiratory Research 2024;11:e002365. doi: 10.1136/bmjresp-2024-002365

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