Singing your heart out in a choir boosts the body’s defences and keeps cancer at bay, a new study found.
Just one hour of singing increased levels of immune proteins in cancer patients, reduced stress and improved mood.
The findings suggested choir practice could be the best tonic to prepare cancer patients for treatment and help them stop the deadly disease coming back.
The study tested 193 members of five different choirs in Cardiff, Bridgend, Pontypridd, Cwmbran and Swansea took part in the study across between June and July 2014.
The choirs were run by cancer support charity Tenovus Cancer Care which runs 17 Sing with Us choirs across England and Wales.
They gave saliva samples an hour before and a hour afterwards which was tested for changes in hormones.
They had significant reductions in stress hormones, such as cortisol, and increases in quantities of cytokines – proteins of the immune system – which can boost the body’s ability to fight serious illness.
And those with the worse levels of mental wellbeing and highest levels of depression experienced greatest mood improvement, which was linked to lower levels of inflammation in the body.
Previous research found high levels of inflammation was linked with serious illness.
Research Associate Dr Daisy Fancourt at the Centre for Performance Science, a partnership between the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London, said: “Many people affected by cancer can experience psychological difficulties such as stress, anxiety and depression.
“Research has demonstrated that these can suppress immune activity, at a time when patients need as much support as they can get from their immune system.
“This research is exciting as it suggests that an activity as simple as singing could reduce some of this stress-induced suppression, helping to improve wellbeing and quality of life amongst patients and put them in the best position to receive treatment.”
The charity’s director of research and development Dr Ian Lewis added: “We have been building a body of evidence over the past six years to show that singing in a choir can have a range of social, emotional and psychological benefits, and now we can see it has biological effects too.
“We’ve long heard anecdotal evidence that singing in a choir makes people feel good, but this is the first time it’s been demonstrated that the immune system can be affected by singing.
“It’s really exciting and could enhance the way we support people with cancer in the future.”
Diane Raybould, 64, took part in the study and has been singing with the Bridgend Sing with Us choir since 2010.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 50 – the same time her daughter was diagnosed but who died aged just 28.
She said: “Singing in the choir is about more than just enjoyment, it genuinely makes you feel better.
“The choir leaders play a huge part of course, but so does the support of the other choir members, the inspirational programme and uplifting songs.
“The choir is a family, simple as that. Having cancer and losing someone to cancer can be very isolating.
“With the choir, you can share experiences openly and that is hugely important.”
A two year study is planned to look at the long term effects of choir singing over several months.
The study was published in ecancermedicalscience.
By Tony Whitfield