Around the world, 64 million people struggle to breathe on a daily basis. But for people with chronic lung conditions, simply enjoying a song could help ease their problems.
A new university study has found that singing could have genuine benefits for patients with breathing difficulties - and at Sheffield’s Springs Leisure Centre, members of a new singing group have been putting the theory to the test.
The group formed as part of the Breathe Easy Sheffield support network, and showed off their talents during a festive concert at nearby Springs Academy school.
Colin Northcote, aged 72, has been a regular member of the group and suffers from COPD - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - meaning he cannot breathe easily and regularly needs to use an inhaler.
The lifelong condition is caused by damage to the air sacs and passages that make up the lungs, which can mean breathing is a constant battle.
Cooking in indoor stoves and working in dusty places can lead to COPD, but by far the biggest risk factor is cigarette smoking, accounting for 80 per cent of cases worldwide.
Colin, from Batemoor, said: “COPD can be difficult to live with and everyday tasks like climbing the stairs can be difficult, but with the help of the sessions I have been able to improve my breathing and it’s made me feel so much better.
“It has been fantastic to be involved in the concert and it’s been so rewarding to be part of the singing group. The singing sessions make me feel exhilarated and I feel like my whole wellbeing has improved.”
The university study was carried out at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent. Researchers asked more than 100 COPD patients to attend weekly singing sessions over a 12-month period.
They measured their lung capacity with a device known as a spirometer, and asked participants to fill in a questionnaire to find out how they were feeling.
Without treatment, people with COPD can expect to see the size of their puff decrease by around 40ml a year - but instead, the academics recorded an increase of 30ml.
Walter Walker, 81, of Gleadless, also took part in the concert at Springs Academy, and said the singing sessions have made him feel ‘significantly more relaxed’.
“Since I have been part of the singing group I have felt so much better and my breathing has improved,” he said.
“It’s nice to be a part of a group where everyone experiences similar difficulties as it makes you feel like you’re all in it together. The sessions make me feel good and it was great to take part in the concert – something I would have never done without the support and guidance of the group.”
People who have completed the NHS pulmonary rehabilitation programme are referred to the ‘Breathe Well Live Well’ classes at Springs Leisure Centre, where around 20 people have joined the choir.
Singing classes are also held at Graves Tennis and Leisure Centre in Norton, Concord Sports Centre in Shiregreen and Hillsborough Leisure Centre.
Exercise instructor Jo Strong said: “People who suffer from lung conditions have a constant battle with their breathing and for some people it can take over their lives.
“Colin and Walter are two excellent examples of how the singing group can dramatically improve wellbeing and help towards a better quality of life.
“The people who attend the singing sessions have told us their breathing has considerably improved and even if it’s just while they’re singing they are able to take their mind off breathing.”
Visit www.sivltd.com for information on how to join the classes.
Sessions help to reduce anxiety
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is an umbrella term which includes the conditions chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Inflammation to the airways causes narrowing, making it difficult to breathe.
Symptoms include a chesty cough, breathlessness, wheezing, anxiety and sometimes depression.
Because the lungs are sensitive, COPD patients should avoid traffic fumes, cigarette smoke, perfume, hairspray and extremes of temperature.
Researchers think the act of singing helps patients inhale without anxiety, taking deeper breaths and clearing the lungs more efficiently, rather than becoming stressed and taking short ‘gaspy’ breaths.
Dr Ian Morrison, one of the Canterbury project’s authors, said: “Lung function improved dramatically, particularly after about five months, once people had got used to what they were doing and changed their breathing habits. “We not only appeared to halt the decline but people showed a small improvement. It really was quite remarkable.”