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7 Ways Music Benefits Your Heart, Brain & Health
The more we are well, the more we have capacity and are resilient in the face of change. As someone who believes deep change is at play on our planet right now, being well and knowing how to navigate ourselves has become more important than ever. Perhaps this piece can provide one small way of feeding our wellness.
Music can have a power that almost seems magical. It can lift moods, tell a story, bring tears, or spread a message. It’s a medium that has an ability to touch us on powerful levels.
Music has been a part of cultures all over the world since some of the earliest times in human history. Historically, it is believed that music may have been around even before humans could speak. Animal bones, wood, and rocks may have been used as early instruments according to some historians. Of course, the human voice was used as well, but it may not have been based around words at first.
Native Africans and Native Americans both used music in the form of chanting for their rituals and healing ceremonies. In Ancient Greece, music was used to ease stress, soothe pain, and help with sleeping patterns. Many have said music heals the soul, and today science helps us understand how these early intuitions were indeed correct.
When I think to my education and training in nervous system health and trauma, the research I will present below paints a picture of how listening to music, learning it, and ‘tuning’ into something we love helps to regulate our nervous system. A regulated nervous system is often a big part of what brings about health benefits, including what we’ll discuss below.
The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic portion of our nervous system. It is a crucial biological part to how we find safety, joy, connection, and well-being as humans.
As the most evolved portion of our nervous system, the vagus nerve connects to many of our crucial organs, gut, eyes, heart, face, vocal cords, ears and more. Thus, singing can activate our vagus nerve, ‘tickling’ the part of our nervous system that triggers our bodies to acknowledge safety and connection - which of course feels good.
There’s also no doubt that frequencies coming from music can also activate the vagus nerve, this may be one of the primary ways in which sound healing functions.
Let’s dive into the science.
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How Music Can Benefit Our Health
“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” ~ Billy Joel, American singer, pianist and songwriter. Nicknamed the "Piano Man."
Music Can Improve Visual & Verbal Skills
Several studies have shown that music education at an early age stimulates the child’s brain in a number of ways that helps to improve verbal skills, communication skills and visual skills.
A study that looked at 4 to 6-year-olds who were subject to one month of musical training that included training in rhythm, pitch, melody, voice, and basic musical concepts resulted in enhanced ability to understand words and explain their meaning.
Another study using subjects that were 8 to 11-year-olds found that those who were involved in extra-curricular music classes were developing higher verbal IQ’s and their visual ability was greater than those who were not receiving the training.
Even children as young as one year old who participated in interactive music lessons with their parents had a greater ability to communicate, smiled more frequently and were showing greater signs of sophisticated brain responses to music.
Music Can Keep an Aging Brain Healthy
Research has shown that having musical training and listening to or playing music in old age can help keep the brain healthy especially as it ages. Since listening to music is like exercising the brain, one can expect the benefits of better memory and mental sharpness as they age.
Even people who have some form of brain damage can regain partial or full access to memories (depending on severity) by listening to music, as listening can help draw on old memories and neurological patterns due to the fact that the rhythm and sounds of music stay within the core of the mind for a long time.
Music Can Induce Happiness
As mentioned before, music has the power to do so much. It can make you feel happy, sad, excited or even pumped up. Listening to music that hits you in a special way causes your brain to release dopamine which is known as a feel good chemical. It causes us to feel emotions like happiness, excitement, joy, etc. Listening to music provides us with the same burst of happiness that we would get from eating a piece of chocolate, sex, or certain drugs.
Another study showed that music with a quick tempo played in a major key made people feel happy, while music with a slow tempo in a minor key more easily led to feelings of sadness.
Music Can Affect Heartbeat, Pulse Rate & Blood Pressure
‘We listen to music with our muscles.’ Nietzsche
Studies have shown that music strengthens the heart and improves the recovery time of patients who were suffering from heart disease.
Regardless of the genre of music, listening to your favorite music releases endorphins in the brain that help to improve vascular health. It has been seen that both men and women who listened to music soon after cardiac surgery were much less anxious and even reported having less pain as opposed to those who rested quietly.
An observation made at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that heart patients confined to a bed that listened to music for 30 minutes had lower blood pressure, slower heart rates, and less distress than those who didn’t listen to music.
Music Can Improve Sleep Quality
Some of the most common things to interfere with sleep are stress and anxiety (heart rates.) Since music has the ability to affect both in a positive way, research has found that listening to music at various times promotes better sleep patterns for people and even created more restful sleep. In some cases, music might even be able to be used to effectively treat insomnia.
Music Can Boost Your Immune System & Reduces Pain
Research has shown that music is capable of reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is responsible for weakening the immune system, increasing risk of heart disease, interfering with learning and memory, lowering bone density, blood pressure, etc. Research found that by listening to just 50 minutes of uplifting music the levels of antibodies in the human body increases. While different types of music were not studied, it is important one listens to music they enjoy as personal preference of music does have an effect on overall physical effects.
Music Can Reduce Depression & Anxiety
Researchers from Drexel University found that cancer patients who either listened to music or worked with a music therapist experienced a reduction in anxiety, had better blood pressure levels and improved moods. Music can have positive effects on the psyche, mood, pain and quality of life as well.
“The evidence suggests that music interventions may be useful as a complementary treatment to people with cancer,” Joke Bradt
I believe we innately can feel that music has positive effects on our body and well being. The next time you listen to music, maybe try to take it a step further. Try being a bit more present, attuned with your body, and see if you can track how you feel as you listen to what you love.
What do you notice? Is it subtle? Does it last? Play with it and have fun. This type of present awareness translates into other areas of life. Heck, when we are happier and more attuned with ourselves we can also make sense of our world better and communicate important ideas more effectively.