Listening to Music Benefits Your Health

Result of  New Study

A new study found that people who listened to music that made them feel good had a 26 % increase in blood flow in their brachial artery, located in the upper arm, for about an hour afterward. This increase in blood flow indicates that the blood vessel expanded, which reflects a healthy output of nitric acid, a good-for-your-heart chemical that makes blood vessels function better and helps regulate blood flow, explains study leader Michael Miller, M.D., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Anxiety-provoking music, on the other hand, had the opposite effect. When study participants listened to music that made them feel anxious, their blood flow decreased by 6 percent.

“Our working hypothesis is that the brain releases endorphins in response to feeling happy, and this, in turn, [produces nitric oxide, which] activates the inner lining of the blood vessels to dilate,” says Dr. Miller. And because nitric oxide widens the arteries, it can also lower blood pressure. So, could listening to feel-good music be a simple way to prevent or even reverse high blood pressure? “We did not test this specifically, but based on previous research finding evidence of decreased blood pressure, it certainly is plausible,” says Dr. Miller.

Another Study

A recent volume of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences takes a closer look at how music evolved and how we respond to it. Contributors to the volume believe that animals such as birds, dolphins and whales make sounds analogous to music out of a desire to imitate each other. This ability to learn and imitate sounds is a trait necessary to acquire language and scientists feel that many of the sounds animals make may be precursors to human music.

Another study in the volume looks at whether music training can make individuals smarter. Scientists found more grey matter in the auditory cortex of the right hemisphere in musicians compared to nonmusicians. They feel these differences are probably not genetic, but instead due to use and practice.

Listening to classical music, particularly Mozart, has recently been thought to enhance performance on cognitive tests. Contributors to this volume take a closer look at this assertion and their findings indicate that listening to any music that is personally enjoyable has positive effects on cognition. In addition, the use of music to enhance memory is explored and research suggests that musical recitation enhances the coding of information by activating neural networks in a more united and thus more optimal fashion.

Other studies in this volume look at music’s positive effects on health and immunity, how music is processed in the brain, the interplay between language and music, and the relationship between our emotions and music.

[The Neurosciences and Music II is volume 1060 of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences]

Music Benefits Heart Disease Patients

Listening to music may benefit patients who suffer severe stress and anxiety associated with having and undergoing treatment for coronary heart disease. A Cochrane Systematic Review found that listening to music could decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of anxiety in heart patients.

Living with heart disease is extremely stressful. The uncertainties and anxieties surrounding diagnosis and the various medical procedures involved in treatment can significantly worsen the condition. For example, stress can increase blood pressure, leading to increased risk of complications. Music listening may help to alleviate stress and therefore reduce this risk.

“Our findings suggest music listening may be beneficial for heart disease patients,” says Joke Bradt, who works at the Arts and Quality of Life Research Center at Temple University in Philadelphia. “But the trials we looked at were generally small and varied in terms of styles of music used and length of music sessions. More research on the specifics of music listening is certainly warranted.”

The researchers reviewed data from 23 studies, which together included 1,461 patients. Two studies focused on patients treated by trained music therapists, but most did not, using instead interventions where patients listened to pre-recorded music on CDs offered by healthcare professionals.

Listening to music provided some relief for coronary heart disease patients suffering from anxiety, by reducing heart rate and blood pressure. There was also some indication that music listening improved mood, although no improvement was seen for patients suffering from depression due to the disease.

“We all know that music can impact on our emotions, our physiological responses, as well as our outlook on life, and this early research shows that it is well worth finding out more about how it could help heart disease patients. In particular, it would be interesting to learn more about the potential benefits of music offered by trained music therapists, which may be differ substantially from those associated with pre-recorded music,” says Bradt.

Journal reference:

  1. Bradt J, Dileo C. Music for stress and anxiety reduction in coronary heart disease patients. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2009, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD006577 DOI: 0.1002/14651858.CD006577.pub2


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