In 1972, the year Big Tobacco said it was “a colossal nonsense that smoking causes emphysema”, I was listening to the Hollies ‘Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress’, and smoking Kents that were killing me softly. By 1976 I had my foot firmly on that Stairway to Heaven.
Surprising as it may sound, it has long been suspected that singing can help people with breathing difficulties.
Singing helps your lung capacity, buoys your spirits, refreshes your memory and probably strengthens your immune system. It is free, it’s legal and it’s fun. As we used to say of sex.
The World Health Organization’s shocking outlook is that COPD will be the third leading cause of death by 2030. Around the world today, an estimated 65 million of us are struggling to breathe on a daily basis.
So if there was a massed COPD Choir, it would be pretty big.
Imagine us all wearing our nose-hoses, belting out the Hollies, ‘All I need is the air that I breathe . . .’
I don’t notice my puffiness so much when I’m singing, with the oxygen cranked up to 4 litres a minute.
And my own experiment with singing has been verified medically. By experts.
A long-term study on COPD and singing from the UK’s Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent has shown that the benefits are real.
Dr Ian Morrison, a senior research fellow and one of the project’s authors, said the results were ‘remarkable’.
“Lung function improved dramatically, particularly after about five months, once people had got used to what they were doing, and changed their breathing habits.”
Dr Morrison says that people with breathing problems tend to develop a lot of anxiety about the very process of inhaling.
“The tendency is to do ‘gaspy’ breathing so they’re taking short little breaths.
“This actually fills up the lungs without clearing them, making it even more difficult to breathe.”
Due to their obstructed airways, many people with COPD already find emptying their lungs a challenge.
In contrast, the techniques used in singing encourage people to breathe in a much deeper, more controlled manner.
“On average the people in our study had 50% of expected lung function,” said Professor Stephen Clift, the study’s lead author. (That means about 1.5 litres of air in a one second puff. For healthy lungs, it would be something more like 3 litres).
Without treatment, people with COPD can expect to see the size of their puff decrease by around 40ml a year.
“In our study, we not only appeared to halt the decline but people showed a small improvement.”
Try it right now.
Punch up The Searchers, Love Potion #9
Sing along loudly. Or find a song you love and do your lungs a favour. It works. It really does.
All things are possible.
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