How Music Affects Us and Promotes Health
Updated: February 18, 2016
Music is an art, entertainment, pleasure, and ... medicine for the body and soul. Playing music is one of the few activities that involves using the whole brain. Music 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, however. Too loud or too jarring music can be distracting, and can compete for our attention with what we're trying to do. But for the most part, exposure to music, specifically classics, has beneficial effects:
Overall, music does have positive effects on pain management. It can help reduce the sensation as well as 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 UK-based Journal of Advanced Nursing29.
Music therapy is increasingly used in hospitals to reduce the need for medication during childbirth, or 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. It causes the body to release endorphins to counteract pain
- 4. Slow music relaxes by slowing breathing and heartbeat
Reducing blood pressure
By listening to the 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 also. Research shows that it's not the style, but rather musical tempo that brings positive effects. Italian and British researchers32 recruited young men and women, half of whom were trained musicians. The participants listened to six styles of music in headphones, including rap and classical pieces, with random two-minute pauses. As the participants listened to the music, the researchers monitored their breathing, heart rates and blood pressure. Heart and breathing rates were faster when they listened to lively music. And 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.
Promotes 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. Listening to classical music improves visual attention in patients with unilateral neglect after stroke43.
Another 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 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. And this is significant, because higher levels of cortisol can lead to a decreased immune response23-24.
Mozart's 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.
Using music therapy during childbirth decreases post-natal anxiety and pain, increases the satisfaction with childbirth and reduces the likelihood of postpartum depression38.
Music therapy in an early stage of tinnitus can prevent tinnitus from becoming a chronic condition39.
2Effects of music on the brain
Music activates many regions of the brain, including auditory, motor and limbic (associated with emotions)46. Such widespread activation of brain explains many beneficial emotional and cognitive music effects.
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
- Recall of autobiographical and episodic information44-45
The Mozart effect
Earlier it has been thought that listening to classical music, particularly Mozart, enhances performance on cognitive tests. However, there are findings18 that show that listening to any personally enjoyable music has positive effects on cognition.
Music improves memory performance
The power of music to affect memory is quite intriguing. Baroque and Mozart's music, with a 60 beats per minute beat pattern, activates the left and right parts of the 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
Music that is easy to listen to 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 produces the best results, but many studies have shown significant effects21.
3Music improves physical 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
Body movement and coordination
Musical rhythm has the remarkable ability to move our bodies. 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
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 the most beneficial for you. You could try classical music one day, pop the next day and then some jazz.
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 extra time.
How does the 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. And 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 well known and respected 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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Last updated: February 18, 2016