Have you ever noticed how relaxing and enjoyable singing can be? Many people sing as a past time, participate in choir, or even just love belting out a tune in the shower. We’ve previously shared how your brain waves can synch up to music and impact bodily functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and even help decrease pain. As many can attest, music also has the incredible ability to calm us down when things feel hectic, or instantly bring back a memory linked to a specific song. It probably hasn’t occurred to most that singing can also help you shed pounds.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, followed exercisers and their responses to music. One group of participants listened to music, while the other group made their own music using software that translated their motion into notes. Imagine the “making” of music like this- there’s a background tempo and every step peppers in a tone, a jump adds a beat, and increasing speed ups the tempo.
Both groups exerted equal force during their respective workouts. However, the music-making group had lower perceived exertion, meaning the exercise felt easier to them. They also used less oxygen, demonstrating that their bodies were working more efficiently. Given these factors, they likely could have exercised longer than the music-listening group before growing fatigued.
According to lead researcher Thomas Fritz, a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, making music may activate our emotion motor control center (the limbic system that directs all human behavioral and emotional responses. It’s what causes automatic actions, such as a genuine smile instead of a forced one.) He describes the body’s reaction as being similar to being on autopilot as you exercise, which makes the activity seem far easier. Another researcher in the study also theorized that moving with the beat, while just listening to music, may also provide the same benefits of activating the emotional motor control center. Singing, by extension, likely produces the same results as the group that “made” music with software, leading to a lower perceived exertion, the singer using less oxygen, and experiencing a more efficient exercise session.
Another study in Folia Phoniatrica and Logopaedica reported that even over a few months of vocal training, the lung volume and rib cage and abdominal expansion of singers increased. The American Journal of Nursing reported in 1986 that opera singers had stronger chest wall muscles, better pumping hearts and maintained their lung capacity until older age.
While clearly singing can lead to some physical benefits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) actually use singing as a marker for whether you are getting an effective aerobic workout. They share that during a moderate exercise session, “you can talk, but not sing.” During a vigorous cardio workout, you can’t even finish a sentence without pausing for breath. So, if you are able to sing while exercising, you’ll reap other benefits to your chest muscles, lung volume, heart, etc., as was shown in studies that observed singers, but it won’t be on par with exercises like running or a more vigorous workout session at the gym.
Singing to increase caloric burn may sound silly, but don’t dismiss it just yet! As with any exercise, the calories you burn are dependent on frequency, as well as the intensity. And, the more active you are during the day, the more you burn calories- the same goes for singing. In fact, several studies show that singing is comparable to walking, yoga, or light housework in the estimated amount of calories burned.
Knowing this, consider that sessions of light aerobic exercise over the day can eventually accumulate to make a decent dent in your weight loss plan. One source said it well in sharing this perspective, “Even when sitting, singing improves lung and heart function, and more serious training brings more serious aerobic benefits, increasing the rib cage volume and respiratory function.” The takeaway? Compounding activities, making them frequent through the day, and keeping a regular schedule of activity will all work towards shedding pounds. Try singing while doing light housework. Use some of our weekly stretches and exercises while singing your favorite song. Or, follow a tune as you complete some work at the computer.
So how many calories can singing actually burn? That depends on the weight of the person doing the singing, as well as a body position and associated other activities. A person weighing 150 pounds will burn approximately 100 calories singing for an hour while sitting down, and a 200-pound individual will burn about 140 calories. Stand up to belt out those tunes and the calories burned increase to 140 for somebody weighing 150 pounds and 180 for a 200-pound person. If you move while singing, whether playing an instrument, dancing or acting on stage, extra calories will be burned, depending on the intensity of the movement.
So add a little music to your day. It’ll not only lighten your mood, it’ll help to lighten your waistline.