Elizabeth Stegemöller, Ph.D., leads a singing group for people with Parkinson’s disease. Her latest research shows singing
can lower stress and improve motor symptoms. (Photo: Iowa State University)

Therapists have used singing to help improve breathing and swallow control in people who have Parkinson’s disease, but new research suggests that singing may improve mood and motor function.

Iowa State University researchers measured heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels in 17 people before and after they participated in a one-hour session of a regularly meeting singing group. They found reduced physiologic indicators of stress as well as improvements in mood and motor symptoms. The improvements among singing participants were similar to improvements seen from taking medication, according to the investigators.

“We see the improvement every week when they leave singing group. It’s almost like they have a little pep in their step. We know they’re feeling better and their mood is elevated,” Elizabeth Stegemöller, Ph.D., an assistant professor of kinesiology, said in a statement. “Some of the symptoms that are improving, such as finger tapping and the gait, don’t always readily respond to medication, but with singing they’re improving.”

No significant differences in happiness or anger were seen after the class, but participants were less anxious and sad, the researchers said.

Stegemöller presented the research Wednesday at the Society for Neuroscience 2018 conference in San Diego.

Results are preliminary, the researchers cautioned, and more studies are needed to determine the mechanism leading to the behavioral changes they observed.