Have you ever noticed how the perfect song can change your mood from sour to rosy; your outlook from dire and depressed to happy and hopeful?
If so, you have already experienced one of the greatest effects music can have on your demeanor and mental health—a transformative effect that cannot otherwise be explained.
While diet and exercise are certainly beneficial to your health, many medical doctors and psychiatrists are now advising, even urging their patients to include music therapy as part of their overall treatment plan, relying on credible studies that have demonstrated the power of music for our well-being.
To highlight the powerful healing properties of music—both mentally and physically—below we have outlined 11 positive effects of music on our health, including an in-depth explanation of each of these advantageous and remarkable effects.
1. Music Eases Pain
According to a range of research studies conducted worldwide, music has been shown to markedly reduce pain in individuals experiencing a variety of acute and chronic conditions.
Music is especially helpful in reducing the pain in older individuals (geriatric care); patients in intensive care units of hospitals suffering from cancer and organ related misery.
It has also been used in palliative care, a type of treatment in which doctors and nurses are no longer looking to cure or resolve the underlying condition in terminal patients, but are instead trying to make those patients as comfortable and pain-free as possible in the last months or weeks of their lives.
Individuals experiencing the agonizing pain of cancer are also soothed by music, experts say, as it serves as both a calming agent and distracts them, thus keeping the pain out of their mind, if only temporarily.
Music has also proven very effective in the treatment of migraine headaches—the pain and sensitivity to light and loud noises that is inherent with this condition.
Women suffering from Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) can also benefit from soothing music, as can those with behavioral issues experiencing painful thoughts and emotions—pain that might otherwise lead to thoughts of self-harming and even suicide.
2. Music Improves Workouts
In today’s age of technology, it’s extremely rare to see an individual working out without music, especially because our cell phones and other mobile devices make it so easy to burn calories to our favorite tunes.
And while music is definitely a great form of entertainment while we walk, run, ride or pump iron, research has also proven that music is beneficial for our overall health when working out, and may even aid in muscle recovery after the workout session.
In a recent study involving male stationary bike riders, exercise scientists noted that these participants had a tendency to work harder on these exercise machines when listening to fast or upbeat music. This rapid pace not only enables people to burn more calories and thus lose more weight; it also improves their cardiovascular health, reducing the possibility for strokes and heart-related illnesses.
Runners, whether on the road or on a treadmill, can also benefit from upbeat music, as research has discovered that these athletes run faster when listening to their “pump up” jams than those who do not listen to music. Music additionally helps joggers in terms of motivation, and improves endurance, allowing them to run faster and farther than they normally would.
Regardless of the type of exercise activity, music—especially songs with an upbeat melody—has been shown to improve motivation and endurance. Moreover, songs with a slower tempo can even speed up the recovery process following one’s workout, allowing them to properly “cool down” and return their heart rate to a normal, resting level.
3. Music Improves Sleep
After a long, difficult day of work or school, it’s imperative that you find a way to wind down. Fortunately, music can help you do just that.
We all have a tendency to internalize our life-related problems, which can lead to an unhealthy amount of stress, worry and anxiety. We fret about our families, our financial situation, work and relationships—the things we have done and the things we still need to do. These stressful thoughts not only make it difficult to fall asleep, they can also significantly impact our sleep patterns, leading to a restless, interrupted type of sleep that prevents our bodies from recovering completely.
Along with its entertainment benefit, soft music can serve as a great distraction that will help us forget about our everyday cares and worries. Music relaxes us and eases our stress and anxiety, and can help promote a deeper more restful sleep without all the tossing and turning.
In a recent study, music—in this case classical music—was proven to be a great cure for insomnia. In that study, busy college students suffering from stress-related insomnia were asked to listen to soft classical music about an hour before their bedtime.
What they discovered was this: a remarkable percentage of these participants found that classical music actually helped them get to sleep, and many reported a greater ability to stay asleep with that music in the background.
4. Music Improves Diet
Overeating throughout the day can lead to obesity and a slew of obesity-related diseases and illnesses. These conditions include diabetes, heart disease, strokes and even certain types of cancers, as well as a general feeling of sluggishness and a depressed mood.
If you are a chronic overeater—even an occasional overeater—there are many actions you can take to help curb this behavior, lose weight and prevent weight-related conditions. Among these actions is listening to music.
Doctors say that listening to soft music (and dimming the lights) before you sit down for a meal will create a soothing environment. In that environment, you are likely to actually eat less food at each meal setting, helping you to better manage your weight and to feel better and healthier overall.
This method/style of eating may also make your food taste much better, allowing you to slow your eating and thus enjoy the food more.
5. Music Reduces Stress
Music can be the ultimate stress reducer. According to researchers, listening to music when we are stressed out, anxious or worried can trigger a biochemical response in our brains—a response that releases stress-battling chemicals that enable us to forget about our cares and worries, if only for a little while.
In many independent studies, soft, calming music has been shown to alter the speed of our brainwaves, slowing them down in such a way that it produces a calming effect on our minds and bodies. Researchers have likened the effect music has on our brainwave patterns to that of someone in a meditative or hypnotic state.
Because exercise is a great way to battle stress, fast or upbeat music that makes us want to get up and move can also help battle our worries and anxieties. Fast music also distracts us (gets us out of our own heads), which can similarly reduce the stress we may be encountering.
The medical community has long recognized the stress-busting benefits of music, and hospitals regularly use music to:
- Relax Surgical Patients Before Surgery. Music can help relax surgical patients before surgery. In one study, music was shown to have a calming effect on patients awaiting a wide range of cardiovascular procedures. This is a major benefit seeing that there are over 4 million of these surgeries performed every year.·
- Relax Patients After Surgery. Music can help people relax after coming out of their surgical trance, and has even been shown to speed the healing process in some patients.·
- Manage Stress in Cancer Patients. Cancer can be a very stressful and worry-ridden ordeal. Doctors, however, have discovered that soft or slow-paced music can be very effective in managing the stress and anxiety people feel after being diagnosed. Music is also a great way to spur cancer patients into talking about, and ultimately accepting their illness, and can ease the pain and discomfort that typically goes hand in hand with this awful disease.·
- Ease the Recovery of Stroke Patients. Strokes can leave patients scared, confused and hyper-stressed. Music can help ease these feelings in stroke patients, and may actually facilitate and hasten the recovery process. In a recent study conducted in the country of Finland, researchers found that stroke patients who listened to music at least two hours a day actually showed improvement in their verbal memory and attention, and were generally in a better mood than those who did not listen to music.
6. Music Relieves Symptoms of Depression
Depression, which affects millions of people around the globe, can be a very painful and debilitating disease. It causes a range of unpleasant symptoms such as:
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Irritability and stress
- Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
- Loss of concentration
- Unexplained physical problems
- And more…
While doctors often treat depression with cognitive therapy and antidepressant medications, some are now also prescribing music therapy to help their patients cope with these symptoms.
Like exercise, music has a tendency to lift us up and may even increase the production of the feel-good brain chemicals known as serotonin and dopamine. However, the type of music one listens to definitely matters: according to doctors, the best types of music for treating the symptoms of depression are classical and meditative music, while heavy metal, hard rock and techno music can actually have the opposite effect and worsen these symptoms.
Singing, regardless of whether you’re in tune or not, also releases feel-good chemicals in the brain because the deep breathing needed for singing draws more oxygen into the blood, helping to improve circulation which in turn improves our mood.
Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. When we speak of depression-related anxiety, it’s important to note that this is not your everyday stress or worry, but a pervasive anxiety characterized by irrational feelings—feelings that can actually cause a rapid heartbeat, sweating, feelings of dread or even death, and many more.
Music, especially soft and soothing music, can help counteract this type of anxiety and distract patients from the irrational fear they are experiencing. Researchers have noted that music is equally effective as a deep massage in anxiety patients, helping them to calm down and take the deep breaths they so desperately covet during an anxiety event or panic attack.
From a general standpoint, music can significantly improve our mood and mindset. In a study conducted in 2013, music was shown to put people in a better mood and enabled them to be more open about their feelings. In that same study, the “participants rated “arousal and mood regulation,” as well as “self-awareness,” as the two most important benefits of listening to music.”
7. Music Improves Cognitive Performance/Brain Power
Music is a great way to improve cognitive performance when working on brain intensive tasks. In a study conducted many years ago, it was noted that background music, played while students took a school exam, helped students finish the exam more rapidly and produced more correct answers. However, a more recent research study found that music will only enhance cognitive performance if that music first elevates the mood of the participants.
Simply put, if the students enjoy the music to which they are listening, they will probably have more success on the exam.
Here’s an interesting talk from Jessica Grahn about the effect of music on the brain:
8. Music Enhances Blood Vessel Function
Music can make us happier, especially when we are listening to the type of music we truly enjoy. In addition to this emotional benefit, there are also several biological functions that can be aided by pleasant music, including the function of our blood vessels.
We’ve all seen videos of professional football or basketball players warming up before the big game, and many of those athletes can be seen listening to music via their headphones or ear buds. This, according to researchers who’ve conducted many studies, is a wonderful idea. In one these trials, it was shown that listening to music helped most people do better in high pressure situations, be it a game or a business meeting, helping them stay calm and focused on the task ahead of them.
Scientists have discovered that the happy and stress-free emotions people experience when they are listening to the type of music they enjoy can have a very healthy effect on blood vessel function, increasing the blood flow throughout the body, revitalizing our cells and releasing endorphins, similar to what joggers feel when they get a “runner’s high.”
9. Music Makes Us More Productive at Work
Whether you work in an office environment, a factory or outside, music can make you much more productive at work, allowing you to get more done in less time.
Music improves concentration and focus, enabling you to stick with the job at hand until completion. Similar to the way music makes us exercise harder, longer and with greater motivation, that same music—with a fast or upbeat melody or soundtrack—can really get us moving in a positive direction while on the job.
And because music is also an enemy of stress and anxiety, people are generally happier at work when music is being played—and happy employees are typically more productive than their stressed-out counterparts.
10. Music Improves Visual and Verbal Skills
Music has been shown to improve the visual and verbal skills in very small children, and also makes them more effective communicators as a result.
In a recent study, a group of 4-6 year old children were subjected to one month of musical training. This training included lessons in pitch, rhythm, melody, voice and basic musical concepts. The results of the study showed increased verbal performance in those children that received the musical training, adding words to their vocabulary and helping them to communicate more effectively.
Children with cognitive disorders, such as Down’s syndrome, can also benefit verbally from musical training. In an experiment conducted in Hong Kong, children suffering from Down’s syndrome who underwent two months of musical training demonstrated better verbal memory than those without such music training. In their first trial, ninety male participants aged 6-15 years were recruited from a school in Hong Kong. Forty-five of the participants had some level of musical training (MT) of between 1-5 years, and the rest had no musical training (NMT). The two groups were matched for age, education level and socioeconomic status. Results showed that participants in the MT group generally recalled more words than the NMT group.
11. Music Keeps an Aging Brain Healthy
Millions of older people suffer from some type of memory impairment as they age—an impairment that can lead to dementia and the more advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
To prevent or curtail the effects aging can have on the older brain; doctors recommend you “exercise” it as often as possible.
And since music is a wonderful and entertaining form of brain exercise, listening to most types of music – or even learning to play an instrument – can actually help keep an aging brain healthier for longer. For adults, the ukulele is the easiest instrument to learn, closely followed by the guitar.
In summary, music is much more than a mere source of entertainment.
Music can help promote healthy blood vessel function, ease the pain and stress in those suffering from major illnesses such as cancer, and improve the cognitive development in children, disabled children and those recovering from strokes.
Music is also a great battler of stress, depression, insomnia and anxiety, soothing and distracting us from our worrisome thoughts. Music makes us much more productive and motivated at work, and can help runners and cyclists work harder and increase their endurance.
We haven’t really touched on the benefits to health of learning to play music, but they shouldn’t be underestimated either. Like learning a new language, learning an instrument is incredibly rewarding in the long run (though very hard in the early stages). Before you know it you’ll be reeling off those campfire songs!
A final point. As good as music is, let’s not forget sufferers of tinnitus – a condition that many people suffer from, especially musicians (or people who spent too long in nightclubs) that causes constant ringing in the ears. For these people their saving grace may be a noise cancelling machine but it’s wrong to say music is always good for the health. Like anything, moderation is key. Watch those volume levels, people.
brain image by affen ajlfe / public domain
working image by Kelp / CC By-2.0
All other images courtesy of depositphotos.com
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.