The Benefits of Joining a Choir?

I have never been much of a singer, and the last memory I have of singing in a group (besides a happy birthday here or there) is from elementary school, when I got in trouble and had a parent teacher conference with my mother and the music teacher because I was inserting inappropriate lyrics into the song You Are My Sunshine (I’ll let you guess what kind of lyrics a fourth grade boy came up with for that one on your own).

 

Public singing, however, might be something that is really good for human beings, especially when done in a group. Dan Pink highlights the benefits of choral singing in his book When, “The research on the benefits of singing in groups is stunning. Choral singing calms heart rates and boosts endorphin levels. It improves lung function. It increases pain thresholds and reduces the need for pain medication. It even alleviates symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Group singing – not just performances but also practices – increases the production of immunoglobulin, making it easier to fight infections. In fact, cancer patients who sing in choirs show and improved immune response after just one rehearsal.”

 

That is a huge range of benefits from something as simple as just singing in tune and rhythm with other people. Pink presents the study in his book when talking about synchronicity with other people. He also highlights rowing competitions and the benefits that individuals receive when working in concert with other people. Being part of a group engaged in a singular activity and actively synchronizing your physical body in time with others seems to be something that brings humans a lot of benefits.

 

When specifically looks at choirs and row teams, but I would not be surprised if you saw similar benefits from people who run together in groups, play Hungry Hungry Hippos together, or engage in flash mob dances. I would expect that anything involving social interactions and coordination among people will begin to build the types of health benefits that researchers have found with choral singing. Physical activities probably boost our health more than board games, but I would not be surprised if studies of social board games would show reduced stress and improved physical health markers as well.

 

I think this is an under-explored area, especially in the United States. We really like our individual super heroes, who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. We subscribe to the Great Man of History view and if you look at this year’s presidential election you will see arguments from the Democrats about which candidate is the one who can deliver and unseat the current president, but you won’t hear arguments about who can bring together the best team of thinkers and policy makers. Our country, with a foundation of Protestant work-ethic and a capitalistic culture that tells you that you can purchase everything to make your life fulfilling, is stuck on individual interventions and choices to health and happiness.

 

Choral singing and rowing and Hungry Hungry Hippos (ok no research on that last one) shows us that we need groups and benefit from social interactions and synchronicity. Despite the way we think about ourselves and our role in society in the United States, we depend on others and when we coordinate with social groups, we feel better. My suspicion is that any research into the health benefits of activities done socially will yield positive health results. This is an area we should explore more broadly, and in our individual lives, I believe we all need to take more steps to join choirs, do our exercising with other people when we can, and set up our own Hungry Hungry Hippo board game groups. It is not just our individual selves who will benefit and who need these groups, but all of society.

On Naps

Quoting Nicholas Bakalar from an article in the New York Times, in which Balakar cites research from a 2007 journal article by Androniki Naska et al., Dan Pink writes the following in his book When: “Naps also improve our overall health. A large study in Greece, which followed more than 23,000 people over six years, found that, controlling for other risk factors, people who napped were as much as 37 percent less likely as others to die from heart disease.” Quoting Bakalar directly, “an effect of the same order of magnitude as taking an aspirin or exercising every day.”

 

In the United States, we are really missing out by not having a siesta culture. Pink was skeptical of naps going into his book, but I’ve listened to him in a couple of podcasts describe how the surprising benefits he uncovered have changed his views toward napping. Relatively short naps, say 20 minutes or so, can provide us with a lot of benefits: reduced blood pressure, better cognitive functioning, and increased vigor to name a few. Naps can have a big impact on overall health and well being, but in the United States they are not appreciated and are in many ways looked down upon.

 

Pink writes, “In general, concludes one analysis of about twenty years of napping research, health adults should ideally nap for approximately 10 to 20 minutes.”

 

For some reason, we believe that all one needs to do to be an effective and efficient employee is get a full night of sleep and then have the willpower to work hard and churn out good work throughout the day. Our ability to not be distracted, to think clearly, and to produce innovative insights are all seen as within our control if we simply work hard enough and apply ourselves with dedication.

 

The research into naps, however, suggests that we are thinking of our personal strength in focusing and producing meaningful work incorrectly. Rather than just focusing on our effort and intention with our work, we should consider our environment and small tools and techniques that can help us perform better. Yes, we should make sure we sleep well at night and find ways to motivate ourselves to do our best deep focus work, but we should recognize that it can’t all be 100% on our conscious brain. Yesterday’s post talked about the restorative power of walks, and today’s post is about the restorative power of naps. Both of these activities can seem like foo-foo time wasters, but they can actually be quite powerful in giving our brain a chance to reset and perform better in the time after we step away from our work. Rather than valuing people as automatons who should be chained to a desk of productivity, we should remember that we are creative, thinking, problem solvers, and need a little TLC to help our brains perform the best on work that matters.