Singing: Just what the doctor ordered

Singing: Just what the doctor ordered

Doctors in Wellington have found an innovative way to help improve the health of people with chronic lung disease.

The Sing Your Lungs Out Choir was first set up in Wellington 18 months ago. It's been so successful doctors have now started a second group in Porirua.

"This is a group of patients who you'd have expected over the year to have gotten worse and have more admissions to hospital and more disabled," says respiratory physician Dr Amanda McNaughton.

"But in fact they're more active and therefore more healthy and [have had] less admissions to hospital."

The project has just won them year's Minister of Health Volunteer Award.

The unlikely singers, who struggle with coughing, wheezing and breathlessness, took a bit of convincing, but numbers have swelled from six to 36.

Lung disease patient Karel de Raad had doubts at first but now says it's become part of his life.

"They have given me the confidence to sing and I think I sing reasonably well, yeah. I'm not a Caruso yet, but that may come."

Musical director Ruth Collingham warms them up with a round of 'Baa Baa Black Sheep', followed by 'Edelweiss', then gets them swaying to 'Isn't She Lovely'.

"For lung disease patients it's the breathing out that can be problematic, so we try and choose things that have long phrases for them. We try some things that move them around a bit, and we do a lot of laughing because laughing's really good for your lungs."

She says respiratory disease can often be isolating, but this group gets them out, even on cold, wet, windy Wellington days.

Singing's long been associated with health benefits, improving mood, reducing infections and increasing lung volumes, although scientifically proving it has been difficult. But test results reveal not only are these patients healthier, they're happier too.

"We have shown that there are significantly less levels of depression, and probably a little bit of improvement in lung function as well," says Dr McNaughton.

The medicine is proving to be a breath of fresh air for patients, with plans to set up a third singing group in the Kapiti Coast.