As singers, it’s important to keep our bodies and therefore, our voices, well hydrated. This can become especially challenging during the cold winter months. For many people, the cool crisp air of the fall and winter is a welcome relief from the hot, humid weather of the summer. For singers however, this isn’t such a welcome change. The cold dry air, while perhaps invigorating to your body, has a dehydrating effect on your vocal folds (commonly called vocal cords) as you breathe it in. Most home-heating systems are also very drying (some worse than others) and on top of that, because your body is cold, you may find yourself drinking less water and craving other beverages, such as coffee, tea and hot chocolate. All of this can result in less moisture for your vocal folds, which to work well, need to stay hydrated. If you live in a climate where the winters are cold and dry, you’ve probably seen and felt the effects on your skin. Unfortunately that same dry air is having the same drying effect on your voice. While one solution would be moving to a tropical climate for the winter (believe me, I’ve thought about it!) there are, fortunately, other ways to help your body and your voice stay hydrated during the colder months.
1) Drink plenty of water! I know, it sounds obvious, however when you aren’t hot and sweaty, you may not feel like you need to drink much water. But you do! There are different schools of thought regarding how much water your body needs. Some medical professionals advise (8) eight ounces glasses of water per day, while others feel it’s more determined by your weight and recommend that you drink half your body weight in ounces every day. In my opinion either is effective and is usually much more than a lot of people tend to drink on a daily basis.
2) Hydrate continuously. Remember that the water you drink has a positive impact on the muscles of your body (including your vocal folds) through the process of absorption and this process takes time. Therefore, the water you are drinking now may feel soothing to your mouth and throat but it will actually need to be absorbed by your body before it will positively impact your vocal folds. To keep your voice hydrated and happy, sip water continuously throughout the day!
3) Eat fruits and veggies that have a high water content. When the cold weather rolls around it’s easy to roll right into the comfort foods and neglect the wonderful fruits and veggies we enjoy so much during the summer. Since fruits and veggies can be a wonderful source of fluids, be sure to keep them in your diet! Melons, are especially good as are cucumbers, avocados, strawberries and broccoli (just to name a few) Many of these foods contain 90% water or more well as other nutrients which are essential for maintaining a hydrated and healthy body. Oh, and when you are in the mood for a little comfort food, try a bowl of homemade chicken soup! Soothes even the coldest body and is loaded with hydration and nutrition. A note here, while citrus fruits contain a lot of water and are considered quite healthy, they are also very acidic and generally aren’t the best choice for singers.
4) Avoid beverages that dehydrate. Alcohol and caffeinated drinks are diuretics; meaning that they cause your body to expel more fluids than it takes in. Coffee, black tea, hot chocolate and many sodas, contain caffeine. While I won’t tell you that you have to eliminate caffeine from your diet entirely (though some singers choose to) you do want to try to keep it to a minimum. When you do drink a caffeinated beverage, try to balance it with plenty of water. For example, when you get up in the morning, before you pour that big cup of joe, drink a class of water first. With regards to alcohol, there are lots of reasons to advise not drinking alcohol in excess. However, even alcohol in small amounts can be dehydrating. If you choose to drink alcohol, particularly during the holidays, try to keep it to a minimum, and match it drink for drink with a class of water or fruit juice.
5) Use a humidifier, especially while you sleep. As I mentioned earlier, most home heating systems are very drying and some types are worse than others. Additionally, while you are asleep, you are not drinking any water. So when you wake up in the morning you are likely to feel very dehydrated. Running a humidifier in your bedroom while you sleep can be very helpful. There are two types of humidifiers, cool mist and warm mist. I happen to be partial to the warm mist type, however both are effective. If you work in an environment where the air is very dry and it’s possible to do so, try running a humidifier while you work as well. A word of advice, it’s extremely important to keep your humidifier clean! Follow the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning carefully.
6) Steam your voice! To give your vocal folds an extra burst of soothing moisture, try breathing in steam. Showers and stream rooms are great, but in my opinion, the best way to accomplish this is with direct steaming. Boil some water and pour it into a bowl. Drape a towel over your head and breathe the steam for approximately 10-15 minutes. Be sure not to make any vocal sound (even whispering) for 30 minutes after steaming. Also, avoid going outside into the cold air for at least an hour. If you’re traveling, the little personal steamers that are often used for facials are great!
7) Avoid breathing extremely cold air. On those bitter cold days, when you go outside, cover your mouth and nose with a scarf. That way, the air you breathe in will stay warm and moist.
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