Why Singers Often Die Young and Early: Breathing and Body O2
Thousands of singers die much earlier than the average life expectancy. Here are just a
few famous names with their life span:
Whitney Houston, 48
- Amy Winehouse, 27
- Michael Jackson, 50
- Elvis Presley, 42.
It is possible to notice that, among different groups of singers, typical life
expectancy of opera singers is greater. However, many of them still had reduced
- Luciano Pavarotti, 71
- Elizabeth Connell, 65.
While there were many opera singers who lived up to their 80s and even 90s, the
general situation with singers is horrible. There were dozens of famous singers
who died in their 20s:
Darby Crash (aka Bobby Pyn) 22
Andrew Wood 24
Tammi Terrel 24
Johnny Ace 25
Tupac Shakur 25
Gram Parsons 26
Kurt Cobain 27
Jim Morrison 27
Jimi Hendrix 27
Janis Joplin 27
Big Pun 28
Tim Buckley 28
Bradley Nowell 28
Shannon Hhoon 28
Hank Williams 29.
And some singers died even in their teens:
- Bethany Durose, 17
- John Spence, 18.
do singers die early? Some
researchers suggested that singers have stressful lives, and being famous is a
negative factor that makes them prone to chronic diseases, addictions, suicides,
and poor health. This idea is not correct since dozens of music conductors had
very long lives. Here are some famous names:
- Arturo Toscanini, 89.
- Nadia Boulanger, 90
- Leopold Stokowski, 95
- Pablo Casals, 96
- Blanche Honnegger Moyse, 101.
Obviously, conductors have no less
stress than singers and often even more responsibility in their work.
The most likely cause of poor health of singers lies in physical causes
that relate to their professional work (i.e., singing). Singers often spent up
to 4-5 hours daily with singing, and this produces a profound negative effect on their basal
breathing patterns. The physiological effects of singing that we are going to
consider here will explain development of chronic diseases and addictions.
Firstly, note that chronic diseases and addictions are always accompanied by low
body-O2 levels and reduced brain O2 content. For many diseases, low body O2
content is the main driving force. We can consider many serious health problem like heart
disease, cancer, diabetes, and asthma. There are dozens of studies that
testify that low O2 in cells is the key cause for development of these diseases.
Hence, in order to solve the puzzle of early deaths in singers, we need to analyze effects
of singing on basal breath patterns and body O2. Singers are commonly taught to sing
with abdominal breathing to improve the quality of voice. This is a positive
factor since chest breathing that is present in most modern people dramatically
reduces blood O2. However, singing requires increased flow of air or
The medical norm for minute ventilation is nearly 6 L/min at rest for a sitting
70-kg person. Such breathing ensures nearly ideal blood O2 (nearly 98 %) and
normal arterial CO2 (nearly 40 mm Hg). Since singing takes place in a standing
posture, the norm for ventilation would be slightly higher or about 7 L/min.
Hours of singing are done with much greater ventilation ranging from about 12 up
to 20 L/min. This hyperventilation (breathing much more than the medical norm) resets the
breathing center to increased ventilation days and nights. Our next step is to
consider effects of hyperventilation on body O2.
Hyperventilation could not boost blood O2. One could breathe in also two times
below the healthcare standard, or 5 fold more, nonetheless in all these
circumstances O2 content in the arterial blood is going to be practically at the
highest amount (roughly 97-98 %). In actual living, blood oxygen amount will be
approximately exactly the same.
On the other hand, hyperventilation minimizes alveolar carbon dioxide levels
together with blood carbon dioxide quantity. This loss triggers constriction of
blood vessels and the reduced Bohr effect. Therefore, hyperventilation becomes
the crucial reason for lessened oxygen concentrations in body tissues.
Obviously, low body O2 also means low brain O2. Moreover, in conditions of hyperventilation, apart
from lack of O2, the brain suffers from low CO2 that is another crucial chemical
for normal function of nerve cells. This effect takes place due to low arterial CO2
With reductions in brain CO2, nerve cells become over-excited. That leads to
"spontaneous and asynchronous firing of neurons" (see medical references for CO2
effects below). In other words, low arterial CO2 causes appearance of
problems with sleep, mood swings, anxiety, panic, and addictions. It has been
known for many decades that hyperventilation is the foundation for nearly all psychological,
psychiatric and neurological problems.
Of course, not all singers acquire heavy basal breathing patterns, diseases and
addictions. There are tens of other factors that influence breathing, including
exercise, sleep, diet, posture, and many others. Most influential negative
factors are individual, and they include exercise with mouth breathing, supine
sleep, poor posture, poor diet and many others. Generally, only some people are
able to successfully counteract negative effects of hours of hyperventilation on
With developing hyperventilation, people get reduced results for the DIY body
oxygen test. Chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and asthma develop
when a singer has genetic predisposition to a particular disease and less than
20 seconds for body-O2 test, while the normal value is about 40 seconds. This
happens when this singer breathes over 2 times more than the medical norm. If
body O2 drops below 10 seconds, there is an immediate danger of heart attack,
stroke, seizures, asthma attack, or some other severe exacerbation.
The solution to this problem of early deaths in singers is to keep body O2 over
20 seconds 24/7. This is the minimum level that guarantees ordinary health
levels. With application of breathing techniques, it is possible to achieve
normal minute ventilation and normal O2 values in tissues. Furthermore, high body O2
and CO2 values profoundly improve quality of voice in singers due to relaxation
and expansion of smooth muscles of airways. This graph below provides some clues
why singers of the first half of the 20th century had more melodic voices.
In general, due to varieties of factors, people used to breathe almost 3 times
less. This tendency should be also present in singers living several decades
Among most effective techniques for
higher body O2 are the Frolov breathing device (Breathslim is an American
version of this Russian device), Amazing DIY breathing device and lifestyle
factors related to the Buteyko breathing method.
On a practical note (since I taught breathing retraining to some singers), too
much singing can prevent a person from getting over 30 s for the body oxygen
test or be a hindrance even at lower numbers. For many people with up to 2-4
hours of daily singing, it is best to take a break for some weeks and get 30+ or
even higher body O2 numbers. Later the same person will be surprised by a
greatly improved quality of his or her voice.
Natural lifestyle choices before and after breathing retraining
||Body oxygen < 30 s
||Body oxygen > 50 s
||Medium, low, or very low
|Desire to exercise
||Not strong, but possible
||Craving and joy of exercise
|Intensive exercise with nose breathing
||Hard or impossible
||Easy and effortless
|Typical mind states
||Confusion, anxiety, depression
||Focus, concentration, clarity
|Craving for sugar and junk foods
|Addictions to smoking, alcohol, and drugs
|Desire to eat raw foods
||Weak and rare
||Very common and natural
||Rare and requires efforts
||Natural and automatic
||Often of poor quality; > 7 hours
||Excellent quality; < 5 hours naturally
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