Led by a professional musician, a weekly group of people suffering from respiratory complications reports improved breathing quality after performing vocal exercises and singing folk songs from around the world.

The London-based group meets at Royal Brampton Hospital, which began the program for people with lung disease after wondering whether singing's natural breathing exercises could improve a patient's lung function. The sessions are offered to people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and asthma.

"Since many people enjoy singing, we thought it would help them associate controlling their breathing with something pleasant and positive rather than a standard physiotherapy technique," said Dr. Nicholas Hopkinson, the hospital's top chest physician. "It's almost accidental that they learn something about their breathing through singing."

And despite the two inconclusive test results regarding singing's overall benefit, many patients responded positively to the treatment's methods.

John Cameron Turner, 77, is convinced the singing classes have helped him breathe easier ever since he began attending five years ago, the Associated Press reports.

"I have damaged lungs, but singing helps me use as much of them as possible," said Turner, who was diagnosed with emphysema in 2002 and has exhausted the range of medicine options available to him. Turner says he used to take several breaks during his half-mile walk to the subway station from his home. After the sessions, he says, "I don't do that because I'm breathing better."

But spokeswoman for Britain's Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, Julia Bott, said Turner's case might be unique to people with more moderate cases of respiratory problems. Severe complications often require extensive treatment, and that singing therapies should not be a substitute.

"Not everybody wants to sing but everybody can learn exercises to help them," she said. "If you've got severe disease, it will be pretty hard to sing if you're panting and out of breath." Complicated songs seldom offer any benefit either, she added.

"No one is going to be singing any Wagnerian operas after this."

Other experts agreed the singing therapy was an unusual but worthy approach. "There's a sound physiological rationale for this," said Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. "Controlled breathing, like the kind you might learn in singing, is very important because people with COPD should try to take deep breaths and slowly synchronize each breath when they're doing something like walking up stairs."

Hopkinson echoed Edelman's sentiments, noting that people who sang during their trials reported feeling better afterwards than those who attended a film discussion group, even if the researchers couldn't measure the improvements objectively.

He specified that the underlying lung disease doesn't change from the singing treatments.

Turner conceded it's hard to know if he was breathing easier because of the singing, but thought more people with lung difficulties should sing. "It's turned me into a social animal and the songs are great fun," he said. "It's such an easy thing to do that you might as well give it a try."