This Is What Happens To Your Body When You Hum

To some, humming might seem like nothing more than an annoying habit. After all, it's no easy feat trying to work or study in silence when the person next to you is blissfully humming away in your ear. Low and behold, however, your noisy neighbor may be giving themselves a hefty dose of health benefits with each melodic inhale and exhale.

Nitric oxide (NO) is a compound naturally produced within our bodies that gets continuously released into our nasal passages, according to research published in Acta Physiologica Scandinavica. Upon inhaling, that nitric oxide then makes its way down into our lungs. Nitric oxide is crucial for blood flow function and the delivery of oxygen to human tissue (per Antioxidants & Redox Signaling). So important in fact, that without adequate circulation of nitric oxide as we inhale and exhale, we stand at an increased risk for heart disease and other related health conditions. Yet in comparison to our typical everyday breathing patterns, humming gets this accomplished much faster. "If you do 10 seconds of humming, all the air is exchanged," researcher and intensive care physician in Sweden Dr. Eddie Weitzberg told Shape. "With normal breathing, it takes between a half-hour and one hour." Fortunately, the benefits don't stop there.

Could humming boost our physical health?

Essentially, the increased nitric oxide we get from humming allows for more of the good stuff to get to where it needs to go. Dr. Lou Ignarro,​​ Nobel prize-winning emeritus professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at UCLA, tells Shape that nitric oxide works by expanding our airways, as well as our pulmonary arteries, thereby boosting oxygen intake and increasing blood flow to the lungs. In addition, it may also help protect against potential illness. "Nitric oxide in the lungs will kill or inhibit the growth of many bacteria, parasites, and viruses," Dr. Ignarro tells the publication.

Not only that, but some research suggests that the rapid exchange of air that takes place as we hum may have the power to relieve symptoms of chronic sinus infections. As demonstrated in a 2006 case report published in Medical Hypotheses, a participant diagnosed with chronic rhinosinusitis powerfully hummed for a period of one hour prior to falling asleep. The following morning, the participant reported his nasal breathing was the clearest it had been in more than a month.

How humming may benefit mental health and those experiencing cognitive decline

Aside from the physical health benefits, there may also be mental health benefits to be gained when we hum too. Researchers from a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Yoga used brain scan technology to look at neural activity associated with various chants commonly used during meditation practices. In comparison to no sound made, or an "ssss" sound made, researchers saw decreased neural activity in depression-related areas of the brain in volunteers engaged in the "om" chant — which concludes in a humming vibration (per Psychology Today).

Furthermore, some research shows the potential for humming to be used as a tool to enhance care for those experiencing cognitive decline. In a 2012 experimental case study published in the scientific journal Music and Medicine, a caregiver overseeing a woman diagnosed with dementia proceeded to hum during the patient's lunchtime. Although more research is needed, study findings showed that the patient's eating and feeding abilities increased during lunch scenarios where the caregiver was humming, in comparison to lunchtimes when the caregiver did not hum.

What happens to your brain when you hum with others?

We've learned about some pretty fascinating things that happen to our bodies when we hum, but what about when you hum along with a friend? As it turns out, our brains may be doing some pretty remarkable neural gymnastics. A 2014 study published in Procedia — Social and Behavioral Sciences looked at brain activity in 14 pairs of participants. The two participants in each pairing were asked to hum a song in unison. Using hyperscanning technology to assess both brains, participants were asked to hum together in different scenarios. In one scenario, the two individuals faced one another and made eye contact as they hummed. In another scenario, they hummed together while separated by a wall. In the third scenario, they hummed alone. Study findings revealed that greater neural synchronization occurred between participants humming in unison when they were separated by a wall. So what exactly does this mean?

As our neurons communicate with one another round the clock, our neural brainwave activity undergoes peaks and dips (via Discover Magazine). Experts have observed that our neural frequencies tend to align with those around us when we're simultaneously engaged in certain pair or group-oriented activities. In other words, the researchers from the 2014 study found that when participants hummed together in the non-face-to-face scenario, their neural activity showed significant alignment — a relationship that was not observed with face-to-face humming.