Music is good for your health.
“If you want to firm up your body, head to the gym. If you want to exercise your brain, listen to music.”
You hear it all the time and we talk about it all the time: music is good for your health.
Do you know why that is?
How it works
You may have heard that music activates every part of the brain. Listening to music, singing along to it, tapping your foot to it, or playing it:
- Exercises the peripheral nervous system: The system that controls your finger movement and gross and fine motor skills.
- Exercises the brain’s “executive function,” or, the ability to plan and make decisions.
- Is sensory input, since music is visual, auditory, and emotional.
This means that music can:
- Improve movement and/or fine motor skills
- Improve our critical thinking
- Force our body to respond physically and mentally to what we’re listening to.
We are all aware that we respond emotionally to music, but what about the other benefits? Researchers have proved that music can influence our stress, recovery, intelligence, and even our life span!
Music reduces stress.
- In a study on the impact of music in the operating room, researchers found that doctors and patients who listened to music during cataract surgery, a stressful surgery in which the patient must be awake, felt ease of stress (and hypertension). Patients also had lower blood pressure while in recovery.
- Another study done in ICU documented patients under a heavy sedative. While listening to a Mozart piano sonata, they experienced lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, less adrenaline, produced fewer stress hormones, and needed less medication to stay sedated.
Music improves recovery.
- A study done with seniors with a risk of falling found that those who listened to music in a physical program had a better gate and balance, and had fewer falls than those who didn’t.
- In a study on stroke victims in recovery, patients who listened to music in therapy had greater verbal improvement than those who didn’t.
- Researchers found that heart attack victims in ICU who listened to music experienced a drop in heart rates, breathing rates, and the heart’s oxygen demands.
You will live longer if you have music.
Seems far-fetched, right? Not necessarily.
Have you ever played a favorite song to pump yourself up or get out of a funk? Then music has impacted your mood!
- While not as demonstrative as prescribed medicine, listening to music has proven to reduce symptoms of depression
- Patients suffering from chronic illness have claimed that music reduces their pain.
- A study in Sweden suggested that the more frequently you attend concerts and music events, the longer you live.
Harvard Health says it best:
Today’s doctors tell us that music can enhance the function of neural networks, slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, reduce levels of stress hormones and inflammatory cytokines, and provide some relief to patiens undergoing surgery, as well as heart attack and stroke victims. But these biological explanations and clinical observations may not do full justice to the effect music has on man and his world. Fortunately, poets and philosophers can fill in the gaps.
Train your brain.
So, music can heal you. Can it also make you smarter?
Well, yes and no.
The Mozart Effect
The “Mozart Effect,” the phenomenon in which listening to classical music helps improve test scores, is very real, but also very unexciting.
Listening to music helps the brain organize the activated nerve cells in the right side of the brain, responsible for higher functions, so it can process information more efficiently. This means that listening to classical music during or prior to a critical thinking test can improve your score.
However, the effect is temporary (about 15 minutes of improved function time) and moderate (IQ increased by only 2.1 points).
But, that doesn’t mean that music isn’t useful. Listen to classical music as a warm up exercise to get the brain operating more efficiently prior to a test.
Exercise your brain.
The brain is a muscle, so it needs a good work out every now and then. Did you know that music can do that for you?
Researchers at Johns Hopkins suggest we listen to music that is unfamiliar:
Your brain has to organize the sound, rhythm, and temperament of the music you listen to. But when you stop listening to new music, your brain is no longer being challenged.
Give your brain a workout by listening to a new genre or artist. The unfamiliarity of new songs and genres forces the brain to organize the new input it’s receiving.
You can also listen to old music to revive memories:
Our senses are linked to memories, so listening to music from your past can revive and improve your memory skills.
Trying to remember your teenage years? Pull out an album you listened to around that time. The closer in time the memory is to the music, the better: aim to narrow the music down to a specific decade.
The point of it all
Music can positively affect us physically by:
- Reducing anxiety
- Lowering blood pressure
- Easing pain
- Improving sleep quality
- Improving mood
- Improving mental alertness
- Improving memory
If music activates each part of the brain, it stands to reason that playing music trains each part of the brain too. Music can:
- Improve hand/eye coordination
- Develop fine hearing skills like recognizing different timbres and isolating certain sounds
- Increase sensitivities to fine changes in musical tone (interpreted emotionally), meaning that musicians may be more sensitive to emotional responses of others.
Basically the more you listen to music, the more sophisticated you are.
What does this mean for you and your student?
Never give up music!
Keep your brain active by being open to new music, or take it another step further and start playing: pick up your old instrument or invest in something completely new. Even just a few minutes of music a day will exercise your brain, improve your mood, and keep you healthy.