Research by the University of Gothenburg
Researchers found that heartbeats synchronised and pulses increased and decreased in unison.
The team asked a group of 18-year-olds to perform three choral exercises – monotone humming, singing a well-known hymn and chanting a slow mantra – while heart rhythm was monitored. Results showed the music’s melody and structure were directly linked to the group’s cardiac activity.
Study lead author Dr Bjorn Vickhoff said: “Singing regulates activity in the so-called vagus nerve which is involved in our emotional life and our communication with others and which, for example, affects our vocal timbre. Songs with long phrases achieve the same effect as breathing exercises in yoga. In other words, through song we can exercise a certain control over mental states."
Researchers believe the health effects of choir-singing arise through the activity “imposing” a calm and regular breathing pattern which has a dramatic effect on heart rate variability. This is assumed to have a favourable effect on health. In the case of controlled breathing, the heart rate or pulse decreases when breathing out during exhalation in order to then increase again when breathing in during inhalation.
Dr Bjorn Vickhoff added “Our hypothesis is that song is a form of regular, controlled breathing, since breathing-out exhaling occurs on the song phrases and breathing-in inhaling between these. We already know that choral singing synchronises the singers’ muscular movements and neural activities in large parts of the body. Now we also know that this applies to the heart, to a large extent.”