I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like some type of music. It can evoke the gamut of emotions, from happy to sad, or it can make you want to lie down and rest or get up and burn a few hundred calories on the treadmill. It can sharpen your vision and memory, quicken or slow down your heart rate, and reduce stress levels. In fact, music can dramatically impact your health and, quite possibly, your life. Let me tell you how.
The Motivating Power of Music
Recently, scientists studied the responses of study participants to various types of music. It was found that music can really affect your mood, help you concentrate and prepare for an exam, relieve stress, or run (and win!) a race. Listening to music has real effects on different parts of your brain – they actually “light up” on PET scans in response to music.
Further, their studies showed a real causal relationship between music and the reward system centers of the brain. This is part of the brain that responds to stimuli of things that are good for you, or make you feel good, – like food, light, sex – and reinforces those behaviors so that you’ll do them often.
Although everyone responds to music – whether it’s classical, rock, or New Age synthesizer – you respond differently than your friend or even your family member. Yet, a recent (2011) Canadian study showed that listening to your favorite type of music almost always positively alters mood. It does this by boosting the feel-good hormone, dopamine that gets activated in the pleasure center of your brain.
There are even new digital sound apps for your phone that you can tune into to help you focus, relax, or energize. They work by sending binaural beats – two different beats in each ear – to create a third sound that stimulates different areas of the brain. The stimulation creates different brain waves with different effects. For example, if you’re stressed out, you can stimulate your cerebral cortex to produce slow, alpha waves to calm you. If you want to concentrate, or study for an exam, you can stimulate your brain to produce faster beta waves which will energize you and help you to focus.
Music can also help you lose weight by stimulating you to exercise more. A study out of Brunel University in West London revealed that listening to upbeat, driving-rhythm, steady metronomic-beat type music can up your exercise endurance by 15%. It also helps lower your perception of effort during exercise as well as increasing your exercise efficiency 1%-3%.
How to Reap the Health Benefits of Music
When I was in my medical residency, a fellow surgeon, listened to soothing, classical music while performing surgery. She told me that it helped relax her and helped her to focus. Since then, researchers have proven through studies that, indeed, music can help calm you, elevate your mood, thereby decreasing depression; it can lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and even help relieve pain and anxiety by reducing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
One study showed that listening to classical music boosted the immune system by increasing immunoglobulin A. This positively affects your mucous membrane response to viruses, bacteria, and other microbes. The immune system association was also associated with decreased heart transplant rejections. New Age music, though, did not have the same effect.
In 4 out of 5 trial studies out of the Cochrane Collaboration, it was shown that listening to music, as a form of psychotherapy, worked better than talk or drug therapy. Listening to music seems to also work well in helping older patients express what they’re feeling.
You may already be using music to make yourself feel, or perform, better without realizing its brain-stimulating advantage. Here are some things you can use different types of music for:
- Pain management – studies show that listening to slow, calming music can reduce pain of arthritis and back pain by 21%. It is also frequently used during childbirth to decrease the need for medication.
- Reduce blood pressure – listening to calming music (Celtic, classical or Raga types) 15 minutes in the morning and at night can reduce blood pressure by 30%. People can use it as a biofeedback device to lower their blood pressure.
- Stroke recovery – listening to your favorite music (jazz, classical, etc) can boost recovery time. Recent studies from Finland showed increased recovery time in verbal memory and attention span.
- Headache improvement – slow, flowing (non-heavy beat) type music can reduce the duration and intensity of a migraine.
- Exercise/weight loss enhancement – choose driving-rhythmic beat type rock, hip-hop, trance, or New Age type music.
- Learning – playing an instrument, or listening to music often, can help you learn better. It increases reading and literacy skills, enhances spatial-temporal reasoning, boosts mathematical abilities. This occurs because of the “Mozart” effect. The 60 beat per minute pattern of Mozart and other Baroque music stimulates both sides of the brain. This maximizes learning and retention of information. The music activates the right brain while the left brain learns the information.
- Improve productivity – listening to rock or classical music helps you perform better while you work. It helps you recognize visual images, numbers and letters faster.
- Sleep aid – listening to slow, light, ethereal New Age music without driving beats, or calming classical music can help you fall asleep quickly.
Music is truly a miraculous creation. It really seems to be the universal language as it has the ability to touch all people on many levels, around the world. It’s one of the true side-effect-free treatments for anxiety, stress, depression, and high blood pressure, that I can recommend you to indulge in frequently. It will light up your brain and help your body release feel good endorphins. Pretty soon, you’ll be in a great mood before you know it.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.