The Mental Health Benefits Of Singing & Dancing: The Facts

SOUND & MOTION: The latest research proves the mental health benefits of singing and dancing.

The latest research proves that singing and dancing can improve a range of mental health conditions. Getting well can be fun! By Ben Arogundade. 20.12.2015.

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RECOVERING FROM MENTAL ILLNESS can be a difficult and often joyless process, but new research into the benefits of singing and dancing proves that getting well can also be fun.

The feel-good effects of singing are well known, but now there is evidence that singing in groups can have a positive impact upon mental health. A year-long experiment with mental health patients, carried out by the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health, in Canterbury, England, concluded that 60 per cent of participants experienced reduced levels of mental distress after a year of group singing therapy, with some no longer fulfilling the diagnostic criteria for clinical depression.

Professor Stephen Clift, director of research, says that as well as being fun, the social contact and structure provided by the regular rehearsals played a part in improving well-being.

The act of singing releases endorphins, a hormone associated with feelings of pleasure.·Oxytocin, another hormone released during singing, has also been found to alleviate anxiety and stress, while also enhancing feelings of trust and bonding.

Another study theorises that music may actually have been invented as a tool to enhance social cohesion, and that, in evolutionary terms, humans are wired to feel pleasure when singing in groups instead of by themselves.

A study carried out by Oxford Brookes University surveyed 375 people who either sang in choirs, sang alone, or else participated in team sports. They found that although all three activities increased feelings of well-being, choristers experienced the greatest benefit.

Psychology graduate Nick Stewart, who led the study, said: “People who sang in a choir had a stronger sense of being part of a meaningful group. Joining a choir could be a cost-effective way to improve people's well-being.”

A key factor in why group singing, as opposed to singing alone, is significantly more beneficial seems to lie within the harmonized nature of the activity itself. “There is a suggestion that there is something unique about the synchronicity of moving and breathing with other people,” says Stewart.

This is borne out by other research. A Swedish study carried out on a group of 18 year old men and women suggested that the heart rates of those who sing in groups actually beat in sync with each other.

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Singing, like dancing, is a form of release, acting as an outlet for one’s emotions. Siobhán Patten — a member of a Birmingham-based choir, and star of a recent BBC programme, The Choir: Sing While You Work — agrees. “It was a cathartic moment for me when I realised that I had an outlet for all the emotions I was carrying, and the choir became my much-needed therapy,” she said. “I had never before realised the incredible healing powers of music.”

Consider singing as part of your healing and well-being plan. For enhanced impact, join a choir. You don’t have to be a good singer to benefit — group singing works regardless of ability.

Many people think of church music when they think of joining choirs, but there are many groups around the country that sing contemporary music too. Do some research and find a local group, or even start one yourself. The Mustard Seed Singers, a Canterbury-based choir, was started by Elle Caldon, who has bi-polar affective disorder. It has gone on to inspire other new choirs for people with mental health issues.

Alongside the health benefits of singing, dancing has also proven to have physical and psychological positives for those with mental illness. A study of 470 people over the age of 75, conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed that a range of leisure activities, including playing musical instruments and dancing, were associated with a reduced risk of dementia.

Research by Sarah Cook, senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield, demonstrated how dancing helped 19 women with varying degrees of mental illness. As a result of dancing their feelings to music, the women felt “positively transformed,” said Cook. “Dancers reported the experience involved a sense of bursting, or liberation — the release of built-up feelings and of relief.”

A Swedish study featuring 112 girls between the ages of 13 and 19 discovered that symptoms of depression, stress, fatigue and headaches were alleviated through regular dancing.

By attending just two dance classes per week the girls also displayed enhanced self-esteem and a greater capacity to deal with everyday problems.

Research into the benefits of singing and dancing prove that getting well can actually be fun, and that regular participation in these activities can form an effective part of the recovery plan for those suffering from different forms of mental illness. Most importantly, they offer solutions that people can administer themselves, without the need for a doctor. Today, self-help has become a crucial component in lowering the country’s healthcare costs while improving patient outcomes.

For more information on effective remedies for mental health conditions, download our free app, the Mental Health Recovery Guide (MHRG).