Choir members do more than sing in harmony – they synchronise their heartbeats, a study has shown. Their pulses rise and fall in unison, depending on the nature of the work they are performing. Scientists in Sweden brought together 15 teenage choristers from a high school in Gothenburg and asked them to perform three different choral exercises – monotone humming, singing a Swedish hymn and chanting a slow mantra.
As the 18-year-olds performed, their heart rhythms were recorded. The results showed that the music’s melody and structure had a direct effect on their hearts. Singing in unison had a synchronising effect, so that the heart rates of all the singers tended to increase and decrease at the same time. Lead scientist Dr Bjorn Vickhoff, from the University of Gothenburg, 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.’
Choral singing is said to have positive effects on health and feelings of well-being, although this has not been studied scientifically to any great extent. The Swedish researchers believe the health benefits arise through singing imposing a calm and regular breathing pattern, which in turn affects heart rate.
‘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,’ said Vickhoff.
‘Exhalation activates the vagus nerve that lowers the heart rate which slows down the heart.’
The findings are published in the online journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
And if you would like some info on how selecting certain music can help you train better (by synching with your heart beat during exercise) check out jogtunes.