The Power Of Music For Health
June 30, 2014 by Margaret Cantwell
This article originally appeared on Easy Health Options®.
There was one aspect of my childhood that was especially lucky. My parents insisted that I learn how to play a musical instrument at a young age. I think that eventually I would have played an instrument in any case. Music, in my gene pool, seems to be a genetic disease (but a good one).
Still, without my parents early prodding, I might not have started playing music as early I did. And I might not have been as disciplined in my musical endeavors if I hadn’t been trained in elementary school.
My mother had been a professional pianist and music teacher, and she just took it for granted that every kid should learn music. But I’m sure she never considered the health benefits of music.
For just about anyone with a computer, the expansion of the Internet has bestowed unprecedented access to a mind-blowing variety of different types of music. Browsing among selections on websites like YouTube, I sometimes think a dedicated music lover could tune into most of the music written during the past 300 years.
My personal obsession with music extends to playing a number of instruments. Maybe I don’t play any particular instrument that well; but I find that emotionally and physically, playing for a while every day on the guitar or piano just plain makes me feel better.
And research into the effects of music — listening to it and performing it — shows that the activity produces measurable health benefits.
When scientists at the University of Liverpool measured changes in blood flow in people’s brains after taking music lessons, they found that a single lesson, even for just half an hour, shuttles more blood into the left hemisphere of the brain. That suggests that doing music activates the part of the brain that takes part in both music and language.
The probable conclusion: Singing and playing music may improve your language skills.
According to researcher Amy Spray: “The areas of our brain that process music and language are thought to be shared and previous research has suggested that musical training can lead to the increased use of the left hemisphere of the brain.”
Exercise To Music
Other researchers have found that listening to music while you exercise can improve your brain function significantly.
In a study at Ohio State University, scientists decided to see what kind of effect exercise and music would have on patients with heart disease. As researcher Charles Emery notes, “Evidence suggests that exercise improves the cognitive performance of people with coronary artery disease. And listening to music is thought to enhance brain power. We wanted to put the two results together.”
When they had heart patients walk or run on a treadmill, the researchers found that the 33 participants in the study reported improvements in their moods and mental outlook whether they listened to music or not. But their improvement on verbal fluency tests after listening to classical music while exercising was more than double what they could do without music.
“Exercise seems to cause positive changes in the nervous system, and these changes may have a direct effect on cognitive ability,” Emery says. “Listening to music may influence cognitive function through different pathways in the brain. The combination of music and exercise may stimulate and increase cognitive arousal while helping to organize cognitive output.”
If you don’t have a lot of music in your life, now’s the time to put this activity to work to boost the health of your body and brain. Even if you just listen and you don’t play, you can benefit.
And it doesn’t hurt to sing along.
Other research indicates that:
- Musical training keeps your brain younger as you age. A study at Northwestern showed that people who receive early musical training do better on brain tests as they grow older. This benefit persists even if you haven’t played much music since your early years.
- Listening to your favorite music can lower your blood pressure. Research at New Westminster College in Canada shows that when heart patients listen to music they enjoy, their blood vessels relax and function more efficiently. The music produces measurable improvement in relaxation of vessel walls.
- Listening to religious music you like can improve your mental health. When scientists from the University of Texas-San Antonio studied older adults who listen to religious music, they found that these seniors enjoy more life satisfaction and less anxiety.
Years ago, when I was still living with my parents, my father used to listen to a news radio station every morning. Talk about irritating. I can still hear the tinny voice on that radio speaker telling everyone within earshot to pay attention to the weather and traffic on the eights.
Nowadays, when I get ready for work in the morning, the news is about the last thing I want to hear. Instead I listen to music. And even if researchers hadn’t confirmed that music fine tunes your health, I’d still have a healthy appetite for a bounty of bouncy tunes.