Sing in the Shower, Sit Up Straight – the Simple Tips That'll Keep Your Voice Young

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As
we get older, most of us worry about grey hair, wrinkles and maintaining
a youthful physique. But many ignore one of the biggest signs of
age – our voice.

People often
don’t realise the voice, like other muscles, needs looking after
– as a result, a third of people over 65 suffer from voice problems,
including hoarseness and weakness. Many are left sounding much older
than they are.

The voice is
made by many parts of the upper body. To form a sound, the muscles
of the abdominal wall and rib cage squeeze the lungs, making them
exhale the breath.

As the airflow
comes up the windpipe, it passes through the vocal cords. These
are not cords, but are two complex flaps of tissue stretched across
the windpipe which open and close as the air passes through.

This causes
them to vibrate, turning the air into a buzzing noise. At the same
time, the larynx – or voice box – adjusts the length and tension
of the cords, producing pitch.

The upper part
of the throat and cavities in the lower skull refine the noise and
make it louder, while the tongue, teeth and lips shape it into words.
With age, the vocal cords and muscles in the larynx wear out.

‘The tissue
gets tired so you can’t keep the same tension,’ says Andrew McCombe,
an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey.

Lung capacity
also declines – by the age of 80 it may be half the volume it was
at age 20.

Messages from
the brain to the voice box may not be as efficient and nerve endings
to the area die. There is less blood supply and the number of lubricating
glands decline, drying out the vocal cords.

Finally, the
tongue, lips and teeth change, making it harder to form words. As
a result, from middle age the voice starts to become thinner and
wavering.

In the U.S.
people are undergoing surgical voice lifts – injecting the vocal
cords with fat or collagen from other body parts. This brings the
flaps closer together so they vibrate better, producing a stronger
voice.

The technique
is available in the UK, but is mainly used to treat inaudible voices,
rather than for cosmetic purposes.

‘There are
other things you can do to keep your voice youthful,’ says Dr Ruth
Epstein of the Royal National Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital in London.

‘Exercising
will ensure lung capacity is high, helping to produce a strong sound.
We should also treat the vocal cords – by singing and continuing
to use the voice into old age.’

Here, with
the help of the UK’s leading voice experts, we reveal how to keep
your voice young.

DRINK MORE
FLUID

‘Moisture for
the larynx is like grease for a ball-bearing. You need it for the
vocal folds to vibrate well,’ says John Rubin, an ENT surgeon and
president elect of the British Voice Association.

No liquids
touch the vocal cords, but they are lubricated by a salivalike fluid
made by nearby glands.

The body must
be kept hydrated enough to make this lubrication. Sipping 1.5 litres
of water a day at intervals of 15 minutes is vital, says speech
therapist Dr Epstein.

AVOID SPICY
FOOD

We may not
feel or taste it, but a common cause of damage to the voice is acid
reflux.

It irritates
and dries out the throat, says Mr Rubin. The vagus nerve in the
neck also reacts to the acid by making the lubricating saliva more
sticky, meaning it is harder for the vocal cords to vibrate.

Signs of silent
reflux are throat clearing, a croaky lower voice in the morning
and the feeling of having a lump in the throat.

Mr Rubin advises
avoiding foods with an irritating effect on the stomach, such as
onions, chilli, fizzy drinks and chocolate: ‘Avoid eating two hours
before bed to allow time for digestion.’

Read
the rest of the article

April
30, 2010

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