Singing for Respiratory Health

Does singing offer the potential to help patients with respiratory conditions?

When Joan from East Lothian was diagnosed with COPD and lung cancer the biggest impact was on her breathing.  But since joining a local singing group The Warblers – Singing for Lung Health in Musselburgh she has noticed a marked improvement.  
Even Covid-restrictions aren’t holding the group back with singers still managing to get together on Zoom. Thanks to Live Well East Lothian | ELCRG for sharing Joan’s inspiring story…

“My daughter advised me to start singing. She is a nurse and she told me that singing was one of the best things I could do to improve my breathing, and she had heard there was a singing for lung health group meeting at MECA in Musselburgh, so she phoned Jane and I started coming – back in March 2019. My first thought was ‘I can’t sing!’ but I thought about it for a few weeks and then told myself ‘if it helps your breathing, Joan, give it a go!’ It was the best thing I ever did. You don’t have to be singer.

I had lung cancer and then I was diagnosed with COPD. I needed something to take my mind off things and to help my breathing.

It has helped my breathing enormously. The exercises that we do at the beginning of each class really help to open up my lungs. Anything that makes singing easier also helps with your breathing. I notice the difference when I’m going around the house. Before I used to struggle for breath when I was going upstairs – I used to have to stop, but now I can manage most of the time without stopping. After a singing class I can go into the kitchen and do a bit more – like make a cup of tea or a sandwich. I feel uplifted and I know I’m breathing better.

The hours immediately after Warblers I feel I’m also using my inhaler less. Now if I’m feeling breathless I go to The Warblers videos on the website, and even if it’s only for 5 minutes it helps. It’s great knowing that the videos are there if I need them.
Singing to me works as well as using my inhaler – and it’s more fun!

Singing together with others with similar conditions has been great – especially during lockdown. You don’t have to leave your home and go out in the cold – and you’re still able to meet up with friends and sing together and have fun. Even though we’re online it doesn’t inhibit us. We all have to ‘mute’ when we sing a song together because of the time lag, but we can still see each other moving to the rhythm of the music, and we chat before and after each song. So in a way it is ideal for those who aren’t confident about the sound of their voice as no-one can hear them!

The small group chats give us an opportunity to be open with each other – we all get a chance to say how we are feeling. It provides a structure to the week and the Zoom sessions feel like we’re inviting others into our own homes, at a time when we are unable to do that in person. In many ways I prefer meeting online as it decreases the risk of infection.

Jane, our song leader, is always looking to broaden our horizons, by adding new songs and exercises and meeting up with singers from Cambridge and the Forest of Dean online – there’s no way we would be going down there!

My daughter was right. I wouldn’t be without the singing now. I never thought of myself as a singer but using my lungs in this way has made such a difference to me.”