There are various parts of the body that contribute to effective vocals, and vocal training contributes to overall good health. So what effect does singing have on the respiratory system?
When practised with proper technique, singing develops good breath control strengthening the lungs and helping with a number of conditions. Equally, lung health training will make you a better, stronger and more resilient singer.
In this article, we’ll discuss the impact of singing on asthma and COPD, as well as providing lots of tips on improving your lung health – and in the process, making your vocals even better.
Does singing strengthen lungs?
These sponge-like organs sit either side of the chest and receive the air you breathe in from your mouth, via the windpipe. They absorb oxygen from this air and release it into your bloodstream where it circulates around the body, heling all the organs, including your brain, to function better. Your body then produces carbon dioxide, a waste gas that enters the bloodstream. As well as taking oxygen in, your lungs take on the job of getting rid of this carbon dioxide when you breathe out.
This is why you often feel more relaxed after a big sigh. Strong lungs can perform these functions better, leading to increased overall health and wellbeing. The more air you can take in and release in a sustained manner, the better your voice can sound and the wider your vocal range may be.
Singing for health
The British Lung Foundation has carried out studies to investigate the connection between singing and strong lungs, and found a direct correlation. This is why singing is often suggested as a good route to lung health. Some conditions can hamper lung function, leading to illness and a limit on activities that require deeper breathing. Singing can, in many cases, help to overcome and improve this.
Tips for lung health training
If you take shallow breaths all the time it means that you’re not using your full lung capacity. Deep breaths have a cleansing effect, as you absorb all that lovely oxygen and get rid of the waste gas on the out-breaths. Too little of this means your overall body function isn’t as tip-top as it could be. Shallow breathing is also linked to high-stress levels, which is why we’re always told to breathe deeply and slowly when we need to calm ourselves.
Singing for breathlessness
Did you know you take around 25000 breaths a day? But you won’t think about most of these – if any at all – unless you experience breathlessness. Under normal conditions, you’ll only inhale a few litres of air a minute, but when exercising this can increase to 100 litres per minute. If your body isn’t used to this, it can struggle to maintain the amount of breath it needs to function at this level. And this can lead to breathlessness. Singing places a conscious emphasis on better breathing and trains you to breathe longer and stronger.
Breathlessness may also be a sign of an underlying condition, so do check with your doctor if you are experiencing this, despite taking regular exercise and breathing correctly.
Healthy lungs and food
Diet is always key in health, wellbeing and improved vocals. In terms of benefitting your lung health in particular, here are some great foods to add to your meals.
- Oily fish (like salmon, fresh tuna and mackerel) and eggs are packed with omega 3. If you are vegetarian or vegan (or don’t like fish), opt for walnuts instead.
- Fruit, especially apples, apricots, lemons, limes and oranges are full of vitamins A, C and E. Berries are good for their antioxidant properties.
- Vitamin A is important for the lungs and can be easiest to absorb when eating poultry.
- Like berries, beans contain free-radical fighting antioxidants.
- Broccoli is often recommended for those with COPD due to its antioxidant and NRF2-dependent characteristics.
Does singing make your lungs stronger?
Singing does make your lungs stronger – but there’s a caveat. You need to do it properly. Good breath control is the foundation of vocal technique and is achieved through practising regular vocal exercises.
Once you’ve learnt to breathe from your diaphragm, then all of your singing will strengthen your lungs. So every time you belt out a tune, you have the added benefit that you’re fine-tuning your lung health.
Does singing improve your lung capacity?
In making your lungs stronger, you plumb the depths of your own lung capacity. Much like our brains we often use little of what we’ve got. Vocal techniques encourage us to breathe right into our lungs, both vertically and horizontally, to be able to take in as much air as possible, when required. This is especially necessary for singers who belt out power ballads and sing high notes. Beyonce famously sang when she was heavily pregnant with twins. She sounded amazing, despite having less lung capacity. This is because she knew how to make use of all areas of her lungs, including the sides, when babies pressed on her lower lungs.
How to improve lung function
Practise as often as possible. You can track your progress with a very simple daily exercise:
Breathe in for as many counts as you can manage, hold for two, then breathe out for as many counts as you can manage. Hold for two, then repeat.
If you do this regularly, along with your singing practice, you should see an increase in the count you can manage. Do be careful not to push yourself so hard you feel lightheaded. Only go as far as you can reasonably manage.
What’s the highest number you can breathe in and out up to?
How can I strengthen my lungs for singing?
You need strong lungs to sing well, but then you strengthen your lungs by singing, so get doing it. If you want to go the extra mile, take up running, swimming, pilates or yoga to add to your training. A mix of aerobic and slower-paced activity is ideal. It will also improve your posture, helping to access all areas of your lungs when you breathe.
How can I improve my lung capacity for singing?
If you’ve ever had to hold a long note and run out of breath or had to snatch a quick inhale midway through a musical phrase, you’ll understand the frustration of a lack of lung capacity. Here are some fantastic exercises for you to work on frequently. We guarantee you’ll see a difference in the space of just a few weeks if you’re committed.
How to strengthen lungs naturally
Here are some more tips for lung health:
- Avoid breathing in smog and pollutants. If you’re painting or exposed to fumes, put a scarf or mask over your nose and throat.
- If you live in the city, try and get out to the countryside or seaside now and again.
- Have a flu jab annually and wash your hands frequently to avoid picking up respiratory infections.
- If you smoke or vape, give up. It’s incredibly bad for your lungs and for your vocals. It’s also expensive – just think about how you could better spend the cash.
- Take regular exercise.
- If you don’t like singing, you could take up a wind instrument instead, like the trumpet. This will also strengthen your lungs.
Is singing good for asthma?
Singing promotes better mental and physical health and this means your immune system will be stronger. A better functioning immune system enables you to fight off the kinds of infections that can cause major asthma flare-ups. A research project at the Royal Brompton Hospital compared the effects of participation in a singing group, versus a film club and those receiving standard treatment, on those with respiratory disorders. The study showed a significant improvement in physical health among those participating in the singing group. Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, consultant respiratory physicians says:
“There is common ground between singing technique and the kinds of techniques physiotherapists teach people with chronic respiratory problems”.
Does asthma affect singing?
Some medications, especially steroid-based ones can dry out the voice and this includes many of the prescribed treatments for asthma. Some inhalers can cause hoarseness, so if you’re a singer, speak to your doctor or asthma nurse to work out the best course of treatment for you. Using a spacer may really help, as well as checking your inhaler technique. And keep your voice healthy with lots of lukewarm liquids along with a nutritious diet.
Singing induced asthma
If you’re struggling with singing and find it triggers to your asthma, this could be a sign that it’s not well managed. Book an appointment to chat this through with a medical professional. Make sure you always have your inhaler with you and let others (your singing teacher and fellow musicians) know about their condition, so they are aware of what to do if you have an asthma attack.
Is singing good for COPD?
According to the World Health Organisation, 64 million people worldwide suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This causes deterioration in the lungs and as a result, more of the harmful carbon dioxide is retained in the body. Singing helps that waste gas to be exhaled. Not only is it good for the lungs, but the calming effects and release of feel-good hormones associated with singing have also been shown to help those suffering from chronic illness.
Singing for breathing COPD
A long-term study by Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent found regular singing improved COPD patients’ symptoms. And according to the British Lung Foundation, those with COPD who regularly sing say “it reduces their feelings of being short of breath, helps them to feel more in control of their breathing and helps them to manage their symptoms better”.
Singing exercises for COPD
Here are some great exercises to join in with from The Wigan Warblers.
Singing for lung health training
There are plenty of options to carry out your own lung health training. Online resources provide lots of excellent advice and exercise, including instructional videos showing the correct technique. The best option, however, is to work with a vocal coach or singing teacher who can watch and correct your breathing as you sing and offer personalised exercises. Or join a singing group or choir, for the added benefit of a sense of community and fun.
Breathe Easy choirs and support groups
If you have a respiratory disease, you may find attending a Breathe Easy choir, or local support group (there are 230 throughout the UK) very helpful.
British lung foundation breathing exercises
The British Lung Foundation is a great source of advice and information on this topic. They have released a series of videos showing exercises that’ll help improve breathing.
If you have asthma or COPD, it may help to use a breath trainer. These offer scientifically calibrated resistance, requiring the user to practice for around 30 breaths a couple of times a day. The device increases resistance gradually, a bit like weight training, strengthening the lungs.
There’s no doubt about it, singing will strengthen your lungs and make you healthier. Your system is cleansed in the process and as long as you follow your doctor’s guidance, it can help improve even serious respiratory conditions. And there’s no reason to put it off. Lung strengthening breathing exercise can be done anytime, anywhere, without anyone even knowing. So increase your lung capacity and become a better vocalist.
- Is singing good for your heart?
Singing increases oxygen and blood flow, as well as helping to reduce the heart rate to a healthy level. It is, therefore, an excellent activity to stimulate heart health and general wellbeing.
- Does exercise improve lung function?
Exercising as well as singing is great for your lungs, as aerobic activity encourages you to breathe slightly differently, but also deeply. Swimming is an ideal form of exercise to improve lung function, as are yoga and pilates. If you have a lung condition or asthma, do speak to your doctor first.
- How do singers breathe?
Vocal coaches train singers to breathe low into the belly and sing from the diaphragm so that neither the shoulders nor the chest rises. A large amount of breath is taken in and released in a slow, sustained way, to produce a pleasant tone.
Has singing strengthened your lungs? Are you a singer with asthma or COPD – how does it affect you? Let us know in the comments below.