Health news that’s music to your ears
Have you ever noticed that listening to music somehow makes you feel better?
If you’ve ever used music to exercise a little longer or distract yourself from stressful or painful situations, you were feeling what neuroscientists have discovered: that listening to music heightens positive emotion through the reward centers of the brain. In fact, almost no brain center is unaffected by music, which means potentially more uses for and benefits of music.
From helping patients during post-surgery recovery or improving outcomes for people with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers are looking at the ways music may improve our health and well-being. Here’s a look at what they’re discovering.
…reduces stress and anxiety.
Listening to music with a slow tempo and low pitch, without loud instrumentation, and sometimes without lyrics, can calm people down during stressful or painful events by preventing anxiety-induced increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure. It can also decrease cortisol levels, another biological marker of stress.
In a study involving surgery patients, the stress-reducing effects of music were more powerful than the effect of an oral medication to help with anxiety.
And live music may have an additional calming effect. In a recent study, premature babies were exposed three times a week to music: either lullabies sung by their parents or instruments played by music therapists. Though all music improved the babies’ functioning, the singing had the greatest impact — and also reduced the stress of the parents who sang.
It’s not clear why music can help reduce pain, although its impact on dopamine release (a “feel good” chemical in the brain) may play a role. In a study, patients facing spine surgery were instructed to listen to music of their choosing the night before surgery through the second day after their surgery. This group was found to have significantly less pain than a control group that didn’t listen to music.
…may improve immune functioning.
Can listening to music help prevent disease? Researchers are looking at that amazing possibility. In one study, they looked at how music affects levels of “IgA,” an important antibody for our immune system’s first line of defense against disease. The study’s subjects who were exposed to soothing music had significantly greater increases in IgA than when they listened to any of the other conditions: a tone click, a radio broadcast or silence. That suggests exposure to music might improve natural immunity.
…may aid memory.
When we enjoy music, our brain releases dopamine, which has been tied to motivation, usually a necessary component of learning and memory. In one study, adults learning the Hungarian language were asked to speak it normally, speak it in a rhythmic way, or sing it. When asked to recall the foreign phrases afterward, the singing group did better than the other two in accurately recalling the phrases.
Another study showed singing and music listening improved mood, orientation and memory of patients with dementia. Studies like this one have encouraged a movement to incorporate music into care for patients with dementia.
…help us exercise.
Researchers found that study participants who listened to motivational synchronized music walked on a treadmill longer (and felt better during their workout) than those who didn’t listen to music. Another study showed that when people exercised to music with a faster beat, and one that was synchronized with their movement, their bodies used oxygen more efficiently than when they listened to music with a slower, unsynchronized tempo.
So, listen to your favorite music more often. It can help you feel better — in more ways than you thought.