Music Medicine: Can Music Make You Healthier?

August 17, 2011

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A study was published last week with some intriguing results. The researchers looked at the effect of music therapy on patients with cancer. This was a review study, which meant they analyzed data from multiple studies–30 trials in this case–and drew conclusions from the collection of results. They found that music therapy (“music medicine”) improved mood, anxiety, and quality of life in cancer patients. Which are largely emotional results, and things that make intuitive sense, right? But they also found that music therapy had a beneficial effect on heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. Physiologic change. Fascinating, no?

I have personally felt the beneficial effect of music, haven’t you? I’m a big believer in the power of music to help with stress and well-being. But this recent research, well it made me think: is there any evidence that music is beneficial for health, in general? It turns out there’s a whole lot of research into this, actually. The more I started digging the more I started turning up.

The effect of music therapy has been studied on people in a variety of clinical settings: preoperatively, during labor & delivery, and for patients with coronary artery disease. And in each of these situations, beneficial effects were demonstrated: reduction of anxiety and stress, reduction of heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. 

A randomized study of nurses found that music therapy resulted in lower perceived stress level, cortisol, heart rate, mean arterial pressure, and higher finger temperature while the women were listening to music. Which are significant, important physical changes. 

I couldn’t find any studies that looked at the long-term effects, but it does make you think: if there’s benefit in short-term music medicine, there could very well be long-term health improvement. More research forthcoming on this, I’m sure.

I certainly find music to be soothing, don’t you? After a particularly stressful period recently, I made a resolution to listen to more music. I’ve started bringing my iPod with me absolutely everywhere; it practically need to be surgically removed from me these days. And I’ve felt an enormous difference in my life. When I’m listening to music my stress level is hugely improved. It seems to make the bad times better…and the good times better, too.

And what I love about music is that you don’t need to commit yourself to one kind. There’s such variety out there: music that’s uplifting, or relaxing, or mellow, or the kind that make you wanna get up and dance. There’s music for every mood. For me, sometimes there’s nothing better than classical music, but later that same day I find myself craving dance music (even rap!)…show tunes, piano jazz, my fave hits from the 80s…I love it all. Well, maybe not country. Although, even there, I’m starting to come around a little (courtesy of my ever-persistent husband).What’s your favorite? 

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