Patients with COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, may soon get a new prescription from their health care providers: Singing. A new study has found that belting out a tune can help ease the symptoms of COPD and improve breathing for its sufferers.

Globally, about 64 million people suffer from COPD, according to a new report from the BBC. COPD is a lifelong condition that is caused by damage to the air sacs and passages that make up the lungs. For those affected by the disease, every breath is a challenge. The World Health Organization expects COPD to be the third leading cause of death by 2030.

But a new long-term study on COPD from Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent may bring some respite to those with the disease.

The study has found real benefit to COPD patients who practice singing on a regular basis.

Dr. Ian Morrison, a senior research fellow and one of the project's authors, said: "Lung function improved dramatically, particularly after about five months, once people had got used to what they were doing and changed their breathing habits," he said. "To get such an improvement really was quite remarkable."

Why would singing make it easier for people to breathe? Researchers think the act of singing helped COPD patients inhale without anxiety, taking deeper breaths and clearing the lungs more efficiently than they would if they were simply concentrating on their breathing and taking short "gaspy" breaths. Singing allows patients to breathe in a deeper and more relaxed manner.  

The study looked at the breathing patterns of 100 patients with varying degrees of COPD. They attended weekly singing sessions over a 12-week period. Breathing was assessed at the beginning and at the end of the study using a spirometer, something similar to a giant breathalyzer. Patients with COPD generally have about 50 percent of the lung capacity as patients without the disease, and they generally continue to lose lung capacity over time.  

Researchers hoped to show that weekly singing session halted the progression of the disease and kept patients at the same level of lung capacity as before they began singing. But they actually found that most of the patients in their study improved on the spirometer after the year, showing more lung capacity than they had at the beginning of the study.  

"In our study, we not only appeared to halt the decline but people showed a small improvement," said Morrison.

The best part about singing as a prescription? It's free and can be done anytime by patients young or old, rich or poor.

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