Recent research indicates music therapy can help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This condition damages air sacs and passageways in the lungs. People with COPD have trouble breathing. They often take quick, gaspy breaths trying to get enough air.
The constant breathlessness causes anxiety, as well as trouble sleeping and deep fatigue. And because of difficulty getting out and about, people with COPD often become socially isolated. It’s not surprising that 50% of people with COPD are depressed.
At its core, COPD is a problem with exhaling. COPD patients are so anxious about getting enough air that they focus too little on getting rid of the “old air” to make room for the new.
Here’s where singing comes in. Both singers and musicians who play wind instruments learn to control their breathing. People with respiratory conditions can do specific exercises to gain the same control. But the exercises can be tiring.
The key may be music therapy. Studies in the United States and in England have shown that patients with respiratory disease who participate in weekly music therapy improve their lung capacity, feel less fatigued, and become less depressed.
In some sessions, the patients sing. In others they play penny whistles or recorders.
When we sing, it appears we are so engaged with the words and the music that the breathing becomes secondary. Without the person thinking about it, the lungs get exercise and develop muscles and capacity to exhale more fully. As one participant observed, “When you’ve got COPD, breathing is on your mind all the time. But strangely, I don’t notice it when I’m singing. I can hold a note for ages.”
So whether your loved one is a natural Sinatra or can’t carry a tune in a bucket, ask the doctor if singing might be an appropriate pastime. What’s not to love about breathing exercises that are fun?