6 Reasons to Crank Up the Tunes Today

Article posted in: Lifestyle

Whether we’re sweating to the oldies, hooked via earbuds to a favorite pop star, or coming down from a tough day with a dose of classical music or soft jazz, most of us are using music as therapy for all kinds of reasons. And in doing so, we’re being pretty smart. That’s right, as it turns out. music is good for your health. An increasing number of studies suggest that it can be the prescription for everything from depression to pain to sticking to an exercise program.

Many of those studies focus on music therapy, a research-based health discipline whose practitioners undergo more than 1000 hours of clinical training. Music therapists, for example, worked with Congresswoman Gabby Giffords to help her regain her ability to speak after she survived a bullet wound to her brain.

Other studies simply look at the effects of music—and certain genres of music—on physical response, such as heart rate, blood pressure and blood levels of stress hormones or immune system markers. Those suggest that for many people, music therapy can be very effective as a do-it-yourself practice.

Here are a few reasons you may want to strike up the band:

1. It improves your mood.
In one study with a group of older people in Singapore, those who listened to music of their own choosing for 30 minutes a week for eight weeks had lower levels of depression than those who didn’t listen to music. In fact, the music group’s depression fell steadily every week. What may be at work, say experts: Music can evoke an emotional response in parts of the brain that control feelings and sensations so it may help you find your “high notes” again.

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2. It may make you healthier.
Music producer-turned-neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, PhD, author of This is Your Brain on Music, and his colleagues at Canada’s McGill University looked at more than 400 studies on the effects of music on health. They found that listening to music boosts an immune system chemical that supports the cells that protect you against bacteria and viruses.

3. It helps reduce stress and anxiety.
When you’re stressed out, your body produces a hormone called cortisol which can be measured by a simple blood or saliva test. Those tests are what researchers used to find out whether music could lower stress levels in several recent studies. Some also looked at heart rate and blood pressure, which can soar when you’re stressed and anxious. For example, in one study of 60 people, listening to Mozart, Strauss or ABBA lowered cortisol levels equally, though only the Mozart and Strauss classical tunes lowered both heart rate and blood pressure. Another review of more than 30 studies conducted by Joke Bradt of Drexel University found patients with cancer who listened to music or worked with a music therapist reported less anxiety. (You may want to listen to stress-relieving music with your dog. A recent study found that dogs stressed out by being in an animal rescue kennel calmed down when listening to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”)

4. It can give you pleasure.
In fact, a 2011 McGill University study found that listening to thrilling music releases the brain messenger dopamine, which is involved in the brain’s reward system. It’s the same chemical that’s triggered when you eat, take certain drugs, or have sex and experience feelings of intense pleasure.

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5. It may reduce pain.
The pleasurable feelings you experience when you’re listening to music may actually interfere in the transmission of pain signals, again because of the brain chemical dopamine. In one study, researchers asked participants to listen to excerpts of different music, some judged to be pleasant, some, unpleasant. The people who listed to the pleasant music—in this case, “The Blue Danube Waltz” by Strauss—reported less pain than people who listened to “unpleasant” music (in this instance, a modern classical piece called “Pendulum.” The more pleasant the participants rated the music, the less pain they felt. It’s also important to get lost in the music, found a study at the University of Utah’s Pain Research Center. People who were really engaged in listening to music—they were asked to pay attention for musical errors—felt less pain that people who were just passively listening, even though they were all receiving small electric shocks!

6. You’ll stick to your exercise program—and maybe even ramp it up.
Along with drugs, distance runners in championship races or ones that involve awards or money aren’t permitted to listen to music when they’re competing, says USA Track & Field, the governing body for distance runners. Why? Runners who listen to music have “a competitive edge,” they say. In fact, one researcher in the field says that music is a “type of legal, performance-enhancing drug.” Several studies, looking at a variety of exercise programs from walking to cycling, found that the faster the tempo (genre didn’t matter–one study even used polkas!), the more “oomph” people put into their workout. They were responding to synchronization—moving to the beat of the music. Other studies have found that people are more likely to keep moving through fatigue when they have some musical accompaniment. It seems that your brain can’t focus on music and the signs of exertion that say, “I need a break” at the same time.