Use it or lose it: Keeping your voice young

Our community reporter Pauline Smith is sharing her simple tips on keeping your voice in top condition – something which may change with ageing.

As the years fly by, we might worry about our weight, keeping in shape, wrinkles and grey hair. Do we ever think about how our voices change as we get older?

Many older people now work beyond 70, or like me do volunteer work and want their voices to stay younger.

What happens to your voice as you age?

Some of the differences you notice involve shifts in pitch, volume, and resonance.

Men’s voices become higher and women’s voices become lower in pitch as hormone levels alter and the muscles controlling the voice box start to thin and become more wobbly.

It means that over time, we can struggle to be heard in social situations, making us feel more isolated and more vulnerable to cold callers on the phone.

The good news is that we can increase the strength of our voices to sound more youthful.

Why does your voice age?

It’s all part of growing older – the rings of muscles surrounding the vocal chords become thinner and weaker and the chords become a bit laxer. Like stretched elastic, they are not held at such high tension. Instead of sounding crisp and clear voices can sound breathy and not as loud.

How does your voice work?

When you breathe out through your windpipe the air passes through your voice box. This controls two flaps in the middle which are connected in a V shape – called the vocal chords – which open and close like curtains and also vibrate.

At the same time, the surrounding muscles adjust the tension and length of these chords, producing pitch. Lastly, the tongue teeth and lips help refine this sound into the noises we know as speaking and or singing.

There are several things that you can do to help protect your voice and keep it in trim.

Sing in the shower or in the bath or just sing

Indeed, we all sound wonderful singing in the shower, because of the echo chamber effect.

Belting out your favourite tunes while you wash helps keep your voice sounding more youthful. You are using the muscles in your voice box…a bit like vocal gymnastics…and breathing in the steam moistens your vocal chords.

The shower is your stage!

If you are in a choir or enjoy singing…even better.

Use it or lose it

Staying chatty and keeping your voice well exercised will help it stay youthful. Even if you live alone, like I and many older people do, then give your voice a daily workout by singing along to the radio or music in any format or by reading an article from the paper out loud.

Using your voice will help scare off age-related muscle weakness in the same way that exercising your body keeps it supple,

Practice storytelling…read out loud one newspaper article or part of a book every day, especially if you live alone

Read something out loud every day … a fun daily voice workout.

Get regular dental checkups

Another reason for you to keep going to the dentist. When you lose teeth, your jaw bone starts to waste away making your mouth collapse inwards. This makes it harder to articulate words and your speech becomes less clear.

Regular cleaning and checks ups will help to keep your mouth in good shape.

Cut back on spicy foods

Spicy foods can make your voice creaky. The windpipe (trachea) and the food pipe (oesophagus) are separate tubes leading to the lungs and stomach.

A tiny drop of stomach acid rising up close to the back of the throat is enough to make your voice box dry and irritated. Signs of this silent reflux are needing to clear your throat and having a raspy voice in the morning.

If that is familiar and frequent then try cutting down on curries and other spicy foods.

A similar raspy voice can be from smoking, too much shouting and too much alcohol the night before. Make sure you drink lots of water and rest your voice

For women – consider HRT

Postmenopause, women’s female sex hormones fall, vocal chords become drier and often the pitch of your voice lowers. Apparently, 46 per cent of women notice changes to their voice, including a deeper singing voice and more hoarseness. I notice that the recent new album by Abba illustrates that the voices of the two singers are lower than in their heyday.

One option is to consider HRT, ask your doctor for advice.

Drink more water

Voice specialists recommend drinking lots of water, not smoking, and avoiding abuse of the voice such as yelling, screaming or excessively clearing your throat, especially when the vocal folds, or vocal cords, within the larynx are already inflamed due to a cold or infection.

But, do we wee more if we drink more? Check out the video below.

Drink alcohol and caffeine in moderation…and always drink the same amount of water with both as they both dehydrate you

Really it can be summed up as Use or Lose it, drink lots of water and sing and speak aloud when you can.

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