How Does Music Affect Your Health?

Does music have health benefits
 

 Article at a glance

  • Music has a profound effect on our brain and the release of dopamine
  • Music can positively affect our mood, mindset and behaviour
  • Music can benefit our physical and mental performance
Music has the capacity to capture attention, lift spirits, generate emotion, change or regulate mood, evoke memories, increase work output, reduce inhibitions, and encourage rhythmic movement – all of which have the potential to help you to do more, feel better, and stress less!  
We all have that one song that no matter where we are or what time it is will belt out every single lyric. We have those songs we know will pump us up for the gym, pep us up in the morning, and that playlist you put on in the car for a long road trip with friends. Music has the power to move us. Move us physically. Move us mentally. Move us emotionally. Music is said to be the universal language and has been deeply rooted in every human culture since the beginning of time. Dance, laugh, cry, smile, focus, energise, connect... music has the ability to bring energy and emotion out of all of us.

What if I told you that music actually improves your health? Thanks to advances in neuroscience we can see how hearing, playing or singing your favourite tunes help your brain function. The benefits of music in our health are overwhelmingly bountiful so let’s break it down and see the potential music holds to improve our health and happiness.

Music affects our brain's chemistry

Down to a cellular level, music has the ability to alter our brain chemistry. It can elevate positive emotion through releasing neurotransmitters and interacting with the reward centres of our brain. A recent study details how music stimulates hits of dopamine to the brain that can make us feel good.[1] Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and is the brain’s “motivation brain-chemical” and an integral part of the pleasure-reward system. That same feeling of pleasure we experience from chocolate, a runner's high, winning the lottery, can be experienced through music as it is all linked with dopamine. [2] 

Want an extra hit of dopamine? Science shows that turning your playlist on shuffle could give you an extra “I hit the Jackpot” boost when your favourite song comes on unexpectedly! [3] 

Music can help us connect with ourselves and also with others. Listening and playing music in the company of others stimulates the brain hormone oxytocin to be released. Oxytocin is another brain-chemical that helps us feel bonded with and trust others.[4]  Music helps in socialisation down to a biochemical level but also is the key factor in many social events that brings us happiness playing at concerts, dances, and backyard BBQs. Studies have shown that the oxytocin boost music lovers are flooded with can make them more generous and trustworthy. [5] 

Music as Medicine

Music can be a useful tool in many aspects of our lives and new research is showing that music can even be more powerful than medicine. Music can be a form of distraction in painful or stressful situations. It can bring the mind’s attention somewhere else and alleviate symptoms. Anxiety is a feeling that has many physical effects on the body including increased heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. All of these biological factors can be prevented or reversed with the help of slow tempo, low pitched, calming music. One study published in the national Library of Medicine concluded;

“Relaxing music decreases the level of anxiety in a pre-operative setting to a greater extent than orally administered midazolam. Higher effectiveness and absence of apparent adverse effects makes pre-operative relaxing music a useful alternative to midazolam for pre-medication.” [6] 

Music therapy has been drawing much more attention in recent years due to evidence in reduction of pain that studies consistently show. A 2013 study with primary fibromyalgia patients, a poorly understood chronic pain syndrome, had participants listen to music once a day for four weeks and track their pain and depression levels. The treatment group reported a significant reduction in pain and depression at week four compared with the control group who reported no difference in pain at week four. [7] 

Music as a medicine

The benefits of music for everyday life

Music can be a tool to alter our perceptions and enter a target mindset. 

“Neuroscientists have found that music enters our nervous system through the auditory brainstem and also causes the cerebellum to 'light up' on a brain scan.” [8] 

Do you have a workout playlist, a study playlist, a throwbacks playlist, a party playlist? We can categorise different music by what it makes us do or feel. You can control your own mental environment through your musical environment. 

Focus

There are not many jobs where you have to be more alert, focused and precise than surgeons. A survey published that most surgeons actually listen to music while operating. 

 “90% of surgeons in the UK put music on the theatre's sound system during operations, with half of respondents favouring up-tempo rock, 17% pop music and 11% classical.” [9] 

Another study done at Stanford showed that music engages areas of the brain which are involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating events in our memory. [10]  So next time you're cramming for a test or overwhelmed at work try putting in some earphones. It is recommended to listen to lower toned songs without lyrics to best help focus on these sorts of tasks. 

Fitness

Music is both a mind and body motivator making it the ultimate trainer to carry you through your workouts also. Maybe you can relate… have you ever walked in the gym and walked right back out when you realized you didn't have your headphones? I sure have at the thought of running on a stationary treadmill for an hour, staring at the wall, with no beat to keep me going, no thank you!

An experiment with healthy male college students investigated the effect of upbeat music on their physical performance while riding stationary bicycles. The participants trained harder while listening to fast music and reported feeling better during the workout and enjoying it more. [11] .

 Background music may enhance performance on cognitive fitness tasks. One study found that listening to music allowed test takers to complete more questions in the time allotted, and get more answers right. [12]  

According to sports researchers Peter Terry and Costas Karageorghis;

“Music has the capacity to capture attention, lift spirits, generate emotion, change or regulate mood, evoke memories, increase work output, reduce inhibitions, and encourage rhythmic movement – all of which have potential applications in sport and exercise.” [13] 

Fun

And this is one of the things that we didn't need scientific evidence to prove. We all know the effects music has on us -  it simply makes us feel good! One song can turn your mood a full 180. Some songs we can’t help but start dancing. Some get stuck in your head and can’t stop singing. And some make us nostalgic bringing up those same feelings from cherished memories.

Music is one of the most powerful neurobiological tools we have to change our mood, mindset, and behaviour. Music shapes our minds and actions, and more than just enjoying it we can utilise it to improve our health and happiness.

References

[1] https://www.pnas.org/content/116/9/3793 

[2] https://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(12)00941-5

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201212/the-neuroscience-music-mindset-and-motivation

[4] http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2012/12/birdsong-study-pecks-theory-that-music.html

[5] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315937291_Oxytocin_Trust_and_Trustworthiness_The_Moderating_Role_of_Music

[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19388893/

[7] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1524904210001396

[8] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1053811911013000?via%3Dihub

[9] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/379309

[10] http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2007/07/music-moves-brain-to-pay-attention-stanford-study-finds.html

[11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19793214/

[12] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20865993/

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3944555/