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Music's Effect on Health

music's_effect_on_health_picA number of years ago, I was on a long jog wearing my “Walkman” radio for the first time. It was large and cumbersome by today’s standards, but I wanted to try it out and the music was pleasant. I was in my last mile and really struggling with fatigue, just hoping I could make it home without collapsing, when on came the theme song from the movie “Chariots of Fire.” As I continued running, I couldn’t believe it, but something magical occurred. I felt renewed energy coursing through my body and unknown strength exploding into my legs. The pain and fatigue I had been experiencing disappeared and I literally sprinted the rest of the way home on winged feet.

What had happened? Where had this miraculous second wind come from? Could I purchase more of it in a bottle? It then came to me. It was the music.

Music’s not just a pleasant, time-passing experience. There’s real power in it. Not all music is the same, and of course each of us is unique. Whether as part of a movie or on its own, music can conjure up emotional and physical feelings that can range from spiritual to fun, soothing to full of mystery, or even from sorrow to fright. And, as I experienced, it can even increase athletic performance.

There have been a huge number of scientific studies and research done to determine the impact of music and how it works. So, first of all, let’s take a look at how music influences our lives. The latest studies divide benefits into five main categories: reducing stress, boosting immunity, managing pain, improving exercise, and influencing mood.

Stress – A university study in Taiwan found that the participants in their trials not only felt calmer while listening to soothing music, but also demonstrated lower blood cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, and slower heart rate. Certain types of music are as effective in inducing relaxation and even sleep as taking a Valium; all this without the side effects that normally accompany anti-anxiety medication.

Immunity – In reviewing the data from research literature, it was found that music stimulates a neurochemical mechanism that causes an increase in certain antibodies, as well as stimulating killer cells that attack foreign microbes and bacteria. Is it possible that listening to Adele or Michael Bublé is as important to your health as your physician? A Brigham Young University study found that teenagers with ADHD who listened to 40 minutes of classical music three times a week displayed improved brain waves and were able to focus on the task at hand for extended periods of time.

encourage_exercise_and_improve_performance_with_music_picManaging Pain – The mechanism by which music decreases pain seems to be through the neurochemical influence coupled with the fact that it also diverts a person’s attention elsewhere. It’s so effective that music therapy is now regularly employed in surgical, dental, and rehab settings. It has effectively helped mitigate pain in everything from childbirth to cancer and even burn treatment; again, all with no side effects.

Encouraging Exercise and Increasing Performance – My personal experience supports research finding that music motivates you to workout harder and stay at it longer. One British study actually found that music increased endurance by up to 15% while increasing energy and decreasing the perception of exertion. It also helps to diminish those “pregame jitters;” all without performance enhancing drugs.

Mood – Science has now confirmed that music really can “tame the wild beast” and change our moods. It has power to stir our emotions and spark our memories. Who has not experienced deep feelings of patriotism, tickled their funny bone, or got their romance on, all triggered by music?

Generally faster, more upbeat music increases alertness and ignites our exercising, whereas slower, softer music is more suited for relaxation and de-stressing. Individual preference and experience will dictate whether you are attracted more to country, rap, or classical. So now you know that there is real science behind bugles, drummers, and bagpipes marching soldiers into battle, harp playing angels, and your mom singing you a lullaby when it was time to go to sleep.

Learn more about Dr. Steve Weston

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