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How Music Affects Us and Promotes Health

Updated: August, 2014

Music is one of the few activities that involves using the whole brain. It is intrinsic to all cultures and has surprising benefits not only for learning language, improving memory and focusing attention, but also for physical coordination and development.

Not all types of music have favourable effects. Music can be distracting if it's too loud or too jarring, or if it competes for our attention with what we're trying to do. But for the most part, exposure to classic music has beneficial effects:

1Music heals

Pain relief

Overall, music does have positive effects on pain management. Music can help reduce both the sensation and distress of both chronic pain and postoperative pain.

Listening to music can reduce chronic pain from a range of painful conditions, including osteoarthritis, disc problems and rheumatoid arthritis, by up to 21% and depression by up to 25%, according to a paper in the latest UK-based Journal of Advanced Nursing29.

Music therapy is increasingly used in hospitals to reduce the need for medication during childbirth, to decrease postoperative pain and complement the use of anesthesia during surgery30.

There are several theories about how music positively affects perceived pain:

  • 1. Music produces revulsive effect
  • 2. Music may give the patient a sense of control
  • 3. Music causes the body to release endorphins to counteract pain
  • 4. Slow music relaxes by slowing breathing and heartbeat

Reducing blood pressure

By playing recordings of relaxing music every morning and evening, people with high blood pressure can train themselves to lower their blood pressure - and keep it low31. According to research reported at the American Society of Hypertension meeting in New Orleans, listening to just 30 minutes of classical, Celtic or raga music every day may significantly reduce high blood pressure.

Medicine for the heart

Music is good for your heart. Research shows that it is musical tempo, rather than style. Italian and British researchers32 recruited young men and women, half of whom were trained musicians. The participants slipped on head phones and listened to six styles of music, including rap and classical pieces, with random two-minute pauses. As the participants kicked back and listened, the researchers monitored their breathing, heart rates and blood pressure. The participants had faster heart and breathing rates when they listened to lively music. When the musical slowed, so did their heart and breathing rates. Some results were surprising. During the musical pauses, heart and breathing rates normalized or reached more optimal levels. Whether or not a person liked the style of music did not matter. The tempo, or pace, of the music had the greatest effect on relaxation.

Speeds Post-Stroke Recovery

A daily portion` of one's favorite pop melodies, classical music or jazz can speed recovery from debilitating strokes, according to the latest research. When stroke patients in Finland listened to music for a couple of hours each day, verbal memory and attention span improved significantly compared to patients who received no musical stimulation, or who listened only to stories read out loud, the study reports33.

Recent research has shown that music listening after stroke not only promotes behavioral recovery, but also induces fine-grained neuroanatomical changes in the recovering brain40.

Chronic headaches & migraine remedy

Music can help migraine34 and chronic headache35 sufferers reduce the intensity, frequency, and duration of the headaches.

Music boosts immunity

Music can boost the immune function. Scientists explain that a particular type of music can create a positive and profound emotional experience, which leads to secretion of immune-boosting hormones22. This helps contribute to a reduction in the factors responsible for illness. Listening to music or singing can also decrease levels of stress-related hormone cortisol. Higher levels of cortisol can lead to a decreased immune response23-24.

Anti-seizure effect

The latest 2014 study revealed that listening to Mozart K 448 (Sonata for Two Pianos in D major) reduced the seizure recurrence and epileptiform discharges in children epilepsy36. The antiepileptic effect of Mozart's sonata has been earlier demonstrated by Taiwanese scientists37.

Postpartum well-being

Using music therapy during childbirth decreased post-natal anxiety and pain, increases the satisfaction with childbirth and reduces the likelihood of postpartum depression38.

Tinnitus

Music therapy in an early stage of tinnitus can prevent tinnitus from becoming a chronic condition39.


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2Effects of music on the brain

Music enhances intelligence, learning and IQ

The idea that music makes you smarter received considerable attention from scientists and the media. Listening to music or playing an instrument can actually make you learn better. And research confirms this.

Music has the power to enhance some kinds of higher brain function:

  • Reading and literacy skills11-13
  • Spatial-temporal reasoning14-15
  • Mathematical abilities16-17 - Even children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder benefit in mathematics tests from listening to music beforehand.
  • Emotional intelligence

The Mozart effect

Earlier it has been thought that listening to classical music, particularly Mozart, enhances performance on cognitive tests. However, recent findings18 show that listening to any music that is personally enjoyable has positive effects on cognition.

Music improves memory performance

The power of music to affect memory is quite intriguing. Mozart's music and baroque music, with a 60 beats per minute beat pattern, activates the left and right brain. The simultaneous left and right brain action maximizes learning and retention of information. The information being studied activates the left brain while the music activates the right brain. Also, activities which engage both sides of the brain at the same time, such as playing an instrument or singing, cause the brain to be more capable of processing information.

Listening to music facilitates the recall of information19. Researchers have shown that certain types of music are a great "keys" for recalling memories. Information learned while listening to a particular song can often be recalled simply by "playing" the songs mentally.

Musical training has even better effect than just listening to classical music. There is clear evidence20, that children who take music lessons develop a better memory compared with children who have no musical training.

Note: For learning or memory performance, it's important that music doesn't have a vocal component; otherwise you're more likely to remember the words of the background song than what you're supposed to be recalling.

Music improves concentration and attention

Easy listening music or relaxing classics improves the duration and intensity of concentration in all age groups and ability levels. It's not clear what type of music is better, or what kind of musical structure is necessary to help, but many studies have shown significant effects21.

3Music improves physical performance

Music improves athletic performance

Choosing music that motivates you will make it easier to start moving, walking, dancing, or any other type of exercise that you enjoy. Music can make exercise feel more like recreation and less like work. Furthermore, music enhances athletic performance6-8! Anyone who has ever gone on a long run with their iPod or taken a particularly energetic spinning class knows that music can make the time pass more quickly.

The four central hypotheses explaining music's facilitation of exercise performance include:

  • Reduction in the feeling of fatigue
  • Increase in levels of psychological arousal
  • Physiological relaxation response
  • Improvement in motor coordination

Music improves body movement and coordination

Music reduces muscle tension and improves body movement and coordination25-26. Music may play an important role in developing, maintaining and restoring physical functioning in the rehabilitation of persons with movement disorders.

4Music helps to work more productively

Fatigue fighter

Listening to upbeat music can be a great way to find some extra energy. Music can effectively eliminate exercise-induced fatigue9 and fatigue symptoms caused by monotonous work10.

Keep in mind that listening to too much pop and hard rock music can make you more jittery than energized. Vary what you listen to and find out what type of music is most beneficial for you. You could try classical music one day, pop the next day and jazz the third.

Music improves productivity

Many people like to listen to music while they work and I am certainly one of them. How about you? Did you know you can perform better at your work with music? Whilst there may be many reasons for wishing to listen to music in the workplace, it really improves your productivity27!

According to a report in the journal Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology28, a person's ability to recognize visual images, including letters and numbers, is faster when either rock or classical music is playing in the background.

5Music calms, relaxes and helps to sleep

Relaxing music induces sleep

Relaxing classical music is safe, cheap and easy way to beat insomnia1. Many people who suffer from insomnia find that Bach music helps them. Researchers have shown that just 45 minutes of relaxing music before bedtime can make for a restful night2.

Relaxing music reduces sympathetic nervous system activity, decreases anxiety, blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate and may have positive effects on sleep via muscle relaxation and distraction from thoughts.

Music reduces stress and aids relaxation

Listening to slow, quiet classical music, is proven to reduce stress3. Countless studies have shown that music's relaxing effects can be seen on anyone, including newborns.

One of the great benefits of music as a stress reliever is that it can be used while you do your usual deeds so that it really doesn't take time.

How does music reduce stress?

  • Physical relaxation. Music can promote relaxation of tense muscles, enabling you to easily release some of the tension you carry from a stressful day.
  • Aids in stress relief activities. Music can help you get "into the zone" when practicing yoga, self hypnosis or guided imagery, can help you feel energized when exercising and recover after exercising, help dissolve the stress when you're soaking in the tub.
  • Reduces negative emotions. Music, especially upbeat tunes, can take your mind off what stresses you, and help you feel more optimistic and positive. This helps release stress and can even help you keep from getting as stressed over life's little frustrations in the future. Researchers discovered4 that music can decrease the amount of the cortisol, a stress-related hormone produced by the body in response to stress.

6Music improves mood and decreases depression

Prescription for the blues

Music's ability to "heal the soul" is the stuff of legend in every culture. Many people find that music lifts their spirits. Modern research tends to confirm music's psychotherapeutic benefits5. Bright, cheerful music (e.g. Mozart, Vivaldi, bluegrass, Klezmer, Salsa, reggae) is the most obvious prescription for the blues.

 

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Published: 2009
Last updated: August 17, 2014
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