It’s that time of year. Ah, the holidays. Everyone seems to be stressing, singing, or sneezing. Or all of the above. All of this hustle and bustle can take a toll on our vocal cords. Well, if we want to be technically correct, on our vocal folds. According to ScienceDaily, “The vocal folds, also known popularly as vocal cords, are composed of twin infoldings of mucous membrane stretched horizontally across the larynx. They vibrate, modulating the flow of air being expelled from the lungs during phonation.” In other words, they allow humans to make many sounds. At least when they are working properly.
It’s important that we learn to care for this often forgotten, but oh-so-important, part of our bodies. Below are some preventative measures we can take to keep our vocal cords, ahem, humming all year round.
Improve your air.
The cold, dry winter air can take a toll on our vocal cords. Try using a humidifier to add some moisture to the air. Another way to improve the air in your office or home is to regularly change out the air filters. They are responsible for catching a lot of the yucky stuff (pet dander, dust, etc.) that can irritate your throat. Experts suggest changing your air filter every 30-60 days. In addition, avoid smoking or being around second-hand smoke which is damaging to the delicate vocal folds. Also consider placing live plants around the house. Aim for 1 plant per 100 square feet to help reduce toxins and purify the air. Studies show that having plants around can help reduce dust by 20% and increase humidity by 5%.
Use vocal warm ups.
Just like stretching before a good workout, vocal warm ups can help you perform at your best while also preventing injury. An easy warm up to start with is called sirens or slides. For this simple exercise, make the sound “oo” or “oh” and start at the bottom of your vocal pitch range. Then “slide” all the way up to the top of your pitch range and then slide back down again. Repeat this several times to activate and stretch your vocal cords. Another easy way to warm up is to hum your favorite song. This is a technique I use in the car when I drive to a speaking engagement or on the way to teach. It helps loosen my vocal cords without straining my voice.
Select your drinks carefully.
When you are getting ready to present or perform, pay attention to what’s in your cup. Experts tell us to avoid drinks with alcohol, sugar, and caffeine. Why? Registered dietitian Sharon Zarabi says, “The vocal folds require moisture to work efficiently and though caffeine comes in the form of a liquid, it acts as a drying agent. In fact, caffeine pulls water out of your system and depletes the vocal folds of needed lubrication. Dry vocal cords tend to tighten which temporarily hinders voice range and endurance.” Also stay away from drinks that are too cold which can constrict your vocal cords or drinks that are too hot which might be damaging. Channel your inner Goldilocks and opt for a happy medium when it comes to the temperature of your drink. Also stay away from milk which can coat your throat. Your safest bets are warm green tea or water.
As you gather together with family and friends over the next couple of weeks, take a moment to close your eyes and listen to their voices. Without much effort, you’ll probably be able to pick out who is saying what. That’s the amazing human voice.
Your voice is one of your biggest identifying features. It’s a big part of what makes you uniquely you. I hope these tips help you start a routine of vocal cord care that lasts all year. On Monday, we’ll cover ways that you can treat your vocal cords when they are strained and need to heal. Until then, learn more ways you can achieve presentation greatness with our results-driven, online course.