Try singing to keep fit

There's an all-new fitness craze and just for once, it doesn't look too painful.

AS someone who has never been particularly keen on any form of sport, I was tickled to find out that singing is now being promoted as a form of exercise.

A friend told me that she heard on a BBC programme by Dr Alice Roberts that singing is recommended to improve the health of lungs. The programme was one of a series called Don't Die Young, which is enough to get everyone's attention - even those of us who have lived long enough not to have to worry about that particular eventuality any more.

Funnily enough, I had just been talking to another friend about the benefits of singing as exercise. Maybe she heard the same programme.

Both women were thinking of joining a choir or singing group, but both were worried about whether they could sing well enough to be allowed to join in.

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One said: “OK for you, who can sing, but it's harder for someone like me who would like to sing but can't really do it.” Most people can sing to some extent, and would probably know if they were one of the minority who absolutely cannot recognise a tune. My other friend claimed at first that she had never sung in her life, but later admitted that she sings along to Abba tapes in the car.

That is the thing about singing - it is not primarily about making an impression on anyone else. It is about expressing your feelings; playfully fooling around with a tune, letting out a great burst of joy or even a howl of anguish - think of the blues, sad love songs and all those tragic operatic arias.

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Singing puts those feelings out there in the world - and it is a scarce commodity in a world of headphones, i-Pods and individual isolation.

Singing is coming back onto the agenda in schools. Education Secretary Alan Johnson has announced a £10m package of support for music teaching, with an emphasis on singing. Johnson wants to set up a 21st century songbook for schools, containing songs that every child knows and sings - just like we used to have when I was at primary school. Plus ça change...

When I was at school, we had daily assemblies, and belted out all those Victorian hymn tunes that are so melodic and memorable that even now many of them are engraved on my memory - words and all. There were regular music lessons. In High School we were chivvied by an embittered martinet of a music teacher, continually disappointed by our inability to breath in the right places or enunciate properly. It's all different now.

To quote Jane Marsh, assistant head at St James Middle School in Bury St Edmunds: “Not everyone will be an opera singer or a pop star, but just because you can't reach the high notes doesn't mean you are a bad singer. As long as you enjoy it and get something out of it - that is the main thing.”

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