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When Life Gives You Lemons...SING!

When Life Hands You Lemons … SING!

Several people have come up to me over the past couple of months to ask for a copy of my sermon from this Summer. So, for your chilly Fall reading pleasure, here is a recap:

This sermon started as a requirement for my Associates Degree from Pellissippi. It turns out, I needed a speech credit to graduate. Given that my day job is in training and development, the school was gracious enough to let me “test out’ of the requirement. I was asked to prepare and present a 6-7-minute persuasive speech using Monroe's Motivated Sequence format with five spoken citations on a topic of my choice.

The title of my presentation? When Life Hands You Lemons … SING!

Let me start with a harsh truth. We all get a little older every day. Our physical bodies decline. We become more socially isolated. And our likelihood of mental health issues like Alzheimer’s and dementia increase.

So let me ask you… do you want to age more gracefully? What if I told you there was a simple activity that could significantly improve your quality of life as you age?

What if I told you it’s something humans have already been doing for 3400 years? According to a 2015 article written by Evan Andrews on the History Channel website, most historians consider “Hurrian Hymn No. 6” to be the world’s earliest melody. It was written more than 3400 years ago and dug up in the 1950’s in Ugarit, now Syria. As a church choir director, I get to regularly experience people at all stages of life in my congregation singing. From my experience and research, I’d like to share with you more about how the act of singing is not only a leisure activity, but a way to improve your quality of life!

Let’s start with a quick review of the typical aging process. Our heart and lungs naturally become less efficient as we age. Many people experience higher blood pressure and reduced lung function. Stress builds in our lives and pain levels increase. Our immune systems weaken and our hearing deteriorates. Aging can also increase the likelihood of social isolation and loneliness.

According to a study published in the Perspectives on Psychological Science in 2015, which analyzed data from 70 studies that included more than 3 million people, researchers from Brigham Young University found that loneliness and social isolation increased the risk of premature death by about 30 percent. In fact, according to a BYU news article quote, “Previous research [from Holt-Lunstad and Smith] puts the heightened risk of mortality from loneliness in the same category as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic.”

Research studies also show that loneliness can also increase risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, and dementia. And, just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, One in 10 people age 65 and older (10 percent) has Alzheimer's dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s association’s 2018 Facts and Figures. 1 in 3 seniors die from Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. So, with all this impending doom as we age, how can we improve our health and wellbeing?

We can sing! And specifically, sing in a group.

I might be speaking from experience here, but I also have some great research to back it up. First, let’s look at the physical health benefits of singing. Daniel Pink, in his book “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing", written earlier this year, says, “Choral singing might be the new exercise… Choral singing calms the heart and boosts endorphin levels. It improves lung function. It increases pain thresholds and reduces the need for pain medication.”

Think about it: Singing involves our whole bodies - not only posture and breathing, but concentration and memory. According to research presented in an article in UK’s SAGA magazine last year, group singing has been shown to boost the immune system - including defense against respiratory infections and cancer! If that’s not enough, group singing increases levels of endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin, which in turn help lower stress and increase pain-tolerance. It can even help lower blood pressure.

One group at Ryerson University has even started a hearing-impaired choir, with early findings showing significant improvements in speech-in-noise perception, pitch discrimination, and the neural response to sound. Imagine that! Singing can actually improve your hearing.

And remember all the detrimental effects of loneliness as you age? Singing helps that, too! Research has shown that singing in a group synchronizes our heart beats. When I think of how choirs breathe together, keep the same tempo, and concentrate on the music and conductor -- Of course our heart beats would fall in line. Imagine that level of connection with those around you. According to research summarized in 2016 by Cassandra Sheppard in UPLIFT, group singing increases levels oxytocin, considered the bonding hormone. Cassandra beautifully summarizes these community building effects with this quote, “Singing helps people with depression and reduces feelings of loneliness, leaving people feeling relaxed, happy and connected. What’s more, the benefits of singing regularly are cumulative.”

Sing, improve your health. Sing more, improve your health even more.

Finally, with the prominence of dementia in the aging population, how can singing help patients and their caregivers? A study published in the journal Dementia in 2016 explored the health and well-being benefits of singing for people with dementia and those who cared for them. What they found was that both those with dementia and their caregivers had significant improvements in Social inclusion and support as well as a positive impact on relationships and memory. In fact, Sarah Teagle, co-founder of the Forget-Me-Not chorus, a charity for dementia sufferers was quoted in a 2013 Telegraph article as saying, “Singing enables people with dementia to access memories and joy in times when communication is faltering.”

Now that you’ve heard the research, I encourage you to pause for a moment and think about your personal future, the future for your loved ones and friends. Imagine all these benefits working for you, giving you the physical, social, and mental health benefits to enjoy every moment of aging.

Physical health benefits, like improved posture, circulation, heart and lung function. Lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system.

Social benefits, with a greater connection to others and higher sense of community.

And mental health benefits, providing a positive impact on memory and concentration and improved mood, self-esteem, and confidence.

A 2008 study even makes the claim that singing can improve your life expectancy!

With all of these great benefits, what’s stopping you from singing today? As Cassandra Sheppard so eloquently says:”These benefits are free and accessible to all. We all have a voice. We can all sing, even if we don’t think we can.”

The first step is to get out there and SING! Maybe (ahem) your church choir or a local community choir. Look for a group that aligns with the type of music you’d like to sing. Classical? Sacred? Pop? Show tunes? Already in a choir? Bring a friend or encourage a family member to join for their good health. Besides, singing is best shared.

In fact, some doctors are already starting to prescribe singing for everything from heart ailments to PTSD! And research into the impact of choral singing is ongoing across the globe.

In closing, I encourage each of you to give yourself the gift of health. Sing.

Make a joyful noise! Anne

P.S. If you’re curious about participating in Westside’s music program, please email me:

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