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Singing in a choir could improve your health

By Markham Heid, Men's Health

Singing could be good for your health, according to a new study from Norway.

Researchers found that hospital employees who took part in a choir program reported both improved health and greater engagement at work. Why? Social bonds formed during cultural activities (like singing) have a positive effect on your perceived well being and general health, says study author Jonas Vaag, a clinical psychologist at Nord-Trondelag Health Trust in Norway. Singing also triggers the release of endorphins, which boost your feelings of happiness and pleasure, finds a recent UK study. (For more ways to brighten your mood, try these 4 Proven Happiness-Boosters.)

Here are five more cool ways music can improve your life.

1. Rap Makes You More Creative
Make like Eminem in 8 Mile and start a freestyle rap battle. Spontaneous lyrical improvisation engages your brain's prefrontal cortex region, which is responsible for creative thought, finds a new National Institutes of Health study. With those parts of your brain fired up, you're more likely to experience new insights or bursts of creativity, the study suggests. Why does it work? Letting yourself "spitball"--or throw up ideas without pausing to make judgments--can fuel your creative mind.

2. Classical Music Helps You Focus
Rock out with your Bach out. Brain scans conducted by Stanford University researchers show classical music-- especially complex, continually changing symphonies like those from Baroque composers like Bach and Handel--actually helps your mind focus and sort out information. Cognitive stumble--when your mind expects to hear something, but is surprised by an unanticipated chord or harmony--helps engage and sharpen brain regions responsible for attention and anticipation, the study authors say.

3. Fast Tunes Boost Your Speed
Music helped cyclists bike faster for longer periods and reduced game-day jitters among basketball players, according to two recent studies from Brunel University in the U.K. How? Music appears to rev up your central nervous system for activity while simultaneously helping to distract your mind from discomfort or difficulty, the research suggests. Expert tip: The research showed fast-paced, energetic music was best for physical activity, and inspirational music that builds to a climax is best for game-time prep. Find the perfect tracks to pump you up with the 100 Best Workout Songs of All Time.

4. Your Favorite Song Really Does Make It All Better
Listening to music that moves you triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in your brain that also heightens the pleasure you get from sensual experiences like food and sex, finds a study from McGill University. The key to the dopamine release is that the music must give you chills, the study authors explain. So whether it's the theme to Shawshank Redemption or fun.'s rousing "We Are Young", throw on your favorite inspirational tune to heighten the mood with your girlfriend--or the taste of a good ol' cheeseburger.

5. Certain Chords Can Heal You
The dentist office is on to something. Patients who listened to mellow music before, during, and after surgery reported reduced pain and anxiety and required less sedative medication, according to a University of Kentucky study. Here's why: Music masks harsh sounds and irritating background noise while also engaging the listener emotionally. The result? Distraction from your pain, says study author Lori Gooding, Ph.D., director of music therapy at Kentucky. Chill out with artists like Enya, Jim Brickman, or Burt and Joe Wolff--they're proven pain reducers, says Gooding. Need some more ideas? Check out the 6 Best Ways to Beat Any Ache or Pain.

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