A new vocal research study being conducted on campus unites students and faculty in the Division of Exercise and Sport Science and the Division of Health Sciences in investigating the effects of aerobic exercise on the voice.
The 8-week vocal research study, which involves approximately 20 students participating in weekly voice lessons, will investigate the ability of aerobic exercise to increase lung capacity and improve vocal strength and flexibility.
Dr. Hannah Benge, a faculty member in the Division of Health Sciences who specializes in communication disorders, said that after working with faculty and staff with vocal injuries, she asked a question that became the study’s mission: what preventative measures are there to keep people from damaging their voices?
Seeing a lack of research on the subject, Benge posed this question to a few of her colleagues, including Dr. Stephen Chen, chair of the Division of Exercise and Sport Science, and Dr. Shellie Beeman, a former faculty member of the Division of Music. The three quickly came up with ideas for their own collaborative research, Benge said.
Benge suggested Bob Jones University presents a unique environment for the experiment because through worship activities like chapel and church the voice students sing more often than those in a secular university. “We really want to start here because it’s our singers here that gave us the inspiration for [the experiment],” she said.
According to Benge, existing research supports the idea that having greater breath support can increase volume, provide resilience to injury and preserve the voice.
“I feel like singing is a gift from the Lord that really leads us to worship Him and to praise Him more, and so I would love to help people preserve their voice[s],” Benge said.
The study will involve a group of at least 10 students who will exercise three times a week according to a personalized aerobics plan. An equal number of students will be part of the control group, which involves no intervention.
Both groups will be measured continually to track their progress. Students from the Division of Health Sciences and the Division of Exercise and Sport Science will work with the student participants throughout the study.
At the beginning and end of the eight weeks, Benge and her student research assistants will measure the participants’ voices in the Communication Disorders Lab in the Mack Building to understand how their voices change over the course of the study, she said. Beeman will lend her expertise to the data collected.
Then will work in the Human Performance Lab with his lab assistants and other students to measure the participants’ lung capacity and body composition, which describes the amount and relative proportions of fat weight and lean weight in the body. These tests will reveal the characteristics of each participant, Chen said.
From these tests, Chen will create a personalized exercise plan involving running and jogging for each participant to follow for eight weeks. Chen said he and his students working on the study will take feedback from the participants on how the 30-minute aerobic exercises affect them throughout the program.
According to Benge, the study presents an incredible opportunity for both the School of Health Professions and the students working on the program.
“The therapy ideas and interventions we employ should be based on research, but sometimes it’s hard to understand all the research [and] how it applies until you know how to do research,” Benge said. “So, it’s actually helping them to be better clinicians down the road, because of the level of analysis and understanding and thought processes they’re developing.”
Then said some of the students working with him in the lab are part of an independent study. This program would give them research experience on data collection and analysis as well as class credits.
According to Benge, the interdisciplinary study presents a unique opportunity to publish findings in the fields of speech language pathology, singing voice and kinesiology.
Their goals are to promote the School of Health Professions and reach the community by publishing research-based science that can have a positive impact on quality of life.
Then agreed a main goal is to formally publish the study, which they will be able to do with at least 20 participants. “If we have enough subjects to give us results, we’d like to publish the study,” Chen said.
He also echoed Benge’s focus on improving quality of life. “It’s satisfactory for us to see an individual improve their health status and quality of life,” he said.
One of the lab assistants working on the study, senior kinesiology major Jacob Guerra, worked with Chen on a small pilot study over the course of last semester.
The four students who participated, Guerra said, were happy with their improvement. “It was cool to see the improvements just from the short study that we did last semester, so I’m excited at this point to see even greater [improvement],” he said.