It’s World Music day this week (21st June), and since music is a huge part of my life, I thought I’d look at some ways it can improve our health.
People use music in all sorts of ways – to focus during study or work and to distract from pain or stress such as when giving birth, in dentists, or having scans such as MRIs. We also use it for leisure whether for relaxing or to boost our performance. I know if my final running track is too soft, then I will struggle up the final hill of my usual route. I make sure I have something with a bit of ‘ooomph’ to give my legs the energy! (Thank you Foo Fighters!)
There has been a lot of research into the ways in which music affects the brain, our moods and our wellbeing. Researchers have shown that listening to music not only gives us a hit of dopamine (the reward and pleasure hormone), it also gives us a total ‘brain workout’ as it lights up every area. So, it is not only pleasurable, but good for us too, keeping the brain functioning.
So the top 5 ways Music can improve our health are –
1. Reduce stress and anxiety – Music can soothe us if we feel anxious. It can calm us if we feel angry. We can relax and go ‘somewhere else’ in our heads as we listen to it. As children we might have been sung to as we drifted off to sleep. The release of dopamine pays a part in this, as we get a feeling of happiness. It also works on animals, my dog Molly used to be quite a hyper puppy, and we noticed that certain sounds and music would set her off, but others woudl calm her down. Nora Jones made her lie down and go to sleep! So that got played a lot in thos early months of puppy madness.
However, what is relaxing for one person won’t be for another. It depends on what they are attuned to. Someone into rap music might find that realxing, but someone who had never heard it would not. This can also change as we age, hence the cry of ‘what’s that racket?’ from parents everywhere!
We might assume that everyone will relax to something such as whale sounds which are supposedly relaxing, but for some it will have the opposite effect. I use a ‘resting heart rate’ music and over the 10 years I have been using it, only 2 people have said they didn’t like it.
2. Help memory and creativity – Listening to music can stimulate memories, it can also let our subconscious brain step forward as we realx and let our active brain swtich off a bit. This is where we can be more creative, have new ideas and solutions come to us. That drifting feeling is our brain settling, flipping through it’s files of ideas in peace, without the ‘chatter’ from our conscious getting in the way. Music boosting memories can also help people who have memory problems due to illness or accident.
3. Can Boost Immunity – The jury is still out on the science of this, but generally speaking it is accepted that being more relaxed, boosting positive chemcials in the body as opposed to the more negative ‘stress’ ones, and being happier in general will boost immunity. Music can help in all of those things, so it can be assumed that it can help with the body’s immunity. Whether listening to loud music will stop you getting a cold is perhaps taking it too far though.
4 Boost Exercise – whether it is relaxing duirng the sleep section of yoga, sorry, the ‘corpse pose’ at the end, or powering yourself up that final hill, music has a huge role in activity and exercise. research has shown that listening to different types of music during walking or running can boost oxygen uptake, it also aids stamina and motivation. As I know from my own unscientific research, the right music at the right time can make a big difference, but again it can depend on the individual. Something like Enya would not get me up the hill, but the Foo Fighters will, for someone else it might be the opposite.
5 Help Us Cope With Pain – Probably linked to the release of dopamine, and general stress reduction, as well as acting as a distraction from the pain itself, music can play a part either during a procedure such as dental work, or in a birth room, or it can also play a role in recovery. Studies involving people holding their hands in icy water found that they could hold it under longer with their own choice of music than those who had random music played. Women did better in this test too, and I have seen a tv programme where swearing while doing the test also helped people hold their hand under longer. So there are obviously different factors at play, but music has a part to play in pain reduction.
Over all music has a role to play in many areas of life. I know I feel better when I have more music in my day, whether playing my guitar or listening to it as I go about the day. I have ‘focus’ music for when I am writing or working, I have music that helps housework seem less of a chore, and I listen to the radio in the car. Music plays a part in our growing up, teenagers form their ‘tribes’ around music, and often those influences remain strong for the rest of our lives, even once we have long given up on the posters, make up or t-shirts that go with it. Whether it is Metallica or Mozart, Bowie or Beyonce, music says something to all of us.
If you’d like to know more about music’s influences on our lives a great book is ‘Why We Love music by John Powell.