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Turn It Up! The Health Benefits of Music

June 11, 2014

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Should you add music to your list of wellness boosters, alongside chia seeds and kale? Researchers are discovering the neuroscience behind music, and the results show that it may be used as a tool to improve your health in multiple ways. As with diet, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to music selection. Whether you favor classical, rock, or blues, the most beneficial music will be the one that resonates most for you—and this could vary from day to day or even hour to hour.

In fact, healing music is dynamic, meaning it changes from morning to night, day to day, and year to year. Music conveys our emotions, influences our moods, narrates our lives, which is why music has such powerful whole-body health benefits. And although everyone experiences it differently, music has a positive impact on your physical, mental, and emotional health. Here are some of the most powerful ways music can help your body, mind, and soul:

Boosts Your Immune System

Research shows that antibodies, which are integral to immune system health, increased after subjects were exposed to 50 minutes of dance music. It’s likely that these immunity-boosting effects boil down to music’s ability to reduce stress hormones, especially cortisol, since stress suppresses immune function. So next time you feel a cold coming on, try listening to your favorite upbeat album when you get home from work. You might want to create an “immunity-booster” playlist.

Beat Anxiety and Depression

Scientists found that pregnant women who listened to relaxing music experienced less anxiety, depression, and stress. Another study found that classical and meditative music supports overall well-being, whereas heavy metal and techno music may contribute to reduced quality of life. You might want to switch your alarm clock setting from a beeping noise to soothing music to help you wake up in a calm and peaceful state. 

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Enhance Athletic Performance

The music playing through your earbuds while you work out is more than just an auditory distraction. What you choose to listen to can affect your endurance and help you to push harder. In fact, you may want to choose different music for your warm-up, workout, and cool-down. If you’re going for a long run, you’ll want to pick music that inspires you, redirecting your attention so that you can work out longer and have an altered perception of your effort. If you’re going for intensity, pick music with a fast beat, as high-tempo songs will result in enhanced athleticism, whereas a slow tempo will slow down pace or endurance. As a yoga teacher, I carefully select music for my sequences to correspond to the progression of the class, gradually increasing the tempo of the music as the class becomes more intense, and then bringing it back down as we move towards relaxation and cooling the body.

Modulate Your Mood

If you’ve ever walked into a store pumping techno music and experienced a surge of adrenaline, or felt your body calming down in a waiting room playing smooth jazz, there’s a reason for it. Our nervous system is impacted by music. Loud, uplifting music generally causes our heart rate to increase, while slow, relaxing music brings calm to the body and mind, enabling us to connect with our inner voice. Have you ever felt happy one moment and then been swept with sadness when an emotion-provoking song started playing? That’s the power of music. Music impacts emotions, stimulates self-awareness, and connects us to times past. It has the ability to bring us up or down.

Ease Your Pain

Music can be a powerful tool in pain-management, especially in those receiving geriatric, intensive, or palliative care. Music therapists may address pain symptoms, and the underlying emotions associated with pain, and research also shows that classical music may reduce pain in those suffering from osteoarthritis. It is likely that music’s ability to lower stress and induce the relaxation response helps the body cope with pain and increases the pain threshold. Think about a child who hurts himself—he’s more likely to stop crying when rocked in his mother’s arms and sung to than if he was left alone, despite the fact that the sensation of pain doesn’t change. It’s the mitigation of stress that matters.

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Improve Mental Focus

Research indicates that undergraduates taking a test answered a larger number of questions and had a greater number of correct answers when they listened to music during testing. Improvements in test taking capabilities might vary based on the type of music selected since some music can powerfully influence your emotional state. Try playing different songs when you need to focus intently on something to determine which type of music fuels your productivity most.

Bust Stress

As mentioned above, music helps lower cortisol, which is a major hormone in the stress response. Cortisol is active in the fight-or-flight response, increasing adrenaline and preparing us for danger. Although the stress response serves an important function, constantly raised cortisol levels are damaging to our health. By reducing cortisol levels and changing our emotions, music helps shift our bodies into a state of relaxation. So, if you have a stressful moment at work, insert your earbuds and listen to a relaxing song; you’ll ditch the stress and will be much calmer when you while you work, as well as after you leave the office.

Sleep Better

Music can have a big impact on your sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the “rest and digest” state and is crucial to your ability to obtain restful sleep. One study found that students who listened to relaxing classical music were able to experience fewer sleep disturbances and symptoms of insomnia. Because music can reduce anxiety and lower stress, both of which contribute to poor sleep quality, it’s not surprising that music may be beneficial to sleep health. Maybe it’s time to make lullabies a part of adult life!

How have you used music to improve your physical and emotional health? Are there any artists or songs that are guaranteed to help? Share them with us in the comments below!