In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, whistling was a popular way to entertain people in the United States and Europe. In music halls and Vaudeville, professional whistlers would whistle tunes and imitate bird and wildlife calls. Whistling was popular mainly with the working class, but today is more often associated with Disney dwarfs. But whistling while you work shouldn’t be a dwarfs-only activity. The once-popular pastime offers several health benefits, from boosting your mood to attracting new friends.
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Whistling benefits your mood
Music’s ability to affect how people feel is well documented and as simple as it sounds, whistling a happy tune can change your perception when you’re worrying about life’s problems. Professional whistler Robert Stemmons told NPR that whistling improves your mood and lowers stress. John Wagstaff of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign said he believes whistling is an effective way to release emotions. Wagstaff runs the Music and Performing Arts Library.
Although whistling can’t curb major emotional upsets, it would be a better option than yelling at someone for cutting you off on the road, for example. And it can certainly make time go by more pleasantly.
Whistling strengthens your lungs
In addition to lifting your mood, whistling is good for health… specifically your heart and lungs. Wagstaff says it promotes healthy blood circulation and a normal heart rate. When you whistle, your internal organs get a massage as your diaphragm drops downward during inhalations. The deep diaphragmatic breathing required for whistling brings more oxygen into your body, which is also good for your health and your mood.
Whistling is similar to pursed-lip breathing, and is a strategy that some people use during pulmonary rehabilitation, such as when dealing with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States. The condition is characterized by shortness of breath, mucus production, and coughing, and is known to worsen over time. The purse-lipped breathing exercise is essentially whistling without producing tones. You simply breathe out with your mouth in the same position puckered lips position you use to whistle for a count of four before inhaling through your nose for two counts, and repeating.
Whistling is infectious. Oftentimes, you hear someone whistle and you want to whistle too. It can be a great way to connect with people, just don’t do it in a library or during a lecture.
To get the full benefits of whistling, make sure you breathe correctly. When you take a breath in, your diaphragm should drop down, causing your abdomen to expand. If your abdomen does not expand, you are probably breathing into your lungs only. Chest breathing does not lead to abdominal organ massage or the stimulation of blood flow into the organs.
Also, it’s best to breathe in through your nose with your tongue on the roof of your mouth. When you exhale to whistle, the air of course exits through your mouth and your abdomen deflates. Breathing this way helps to remove moisture from your lungs.
Another good tip is to keep calm and never attempt to force whistling. If you don’t want whistling to be a literal pain in the neck, stay relaxed, possibly using a mirror to check that your shoulders aren’t creeping up to your ears.
Whistling is easy for some people, but many people struggle to produce a single note. The good news is that anyone can do it with a little practice, though perhaps not as well as the professionals… or the Seven Dwarfs.