Music can comfort and soothe us or it can stimulate us to action. It is literally the soundtrack of our lives, accompanying us as we drive to work, energizing us through a workout, empowering us after a break-up or setting the tone for concentration as we study. Music can drive us to creativity or create community with a universal message. Beyond the emotional pleasure that a song can bring us, music has numerous health benefits.
We can’t separate our body from our mind and our soul. “Music touches all three aspects,” Music Health Coach Lori Cunningham said in an interview. “When we use music with intention to help, we can be more productive, and it can help us relax.”
How Music Helps Us De-Stress
Relaxation is crucial for the high-stress society in which we live. Prolonged stress, with its harmful effects on the body, is the number one reason why people go to the doctors. Cunningham said, “If we select music that helps us slow down the body, we can lower our stress.”
Music has been shown to reduce the amount of cortisol, our stress hormone, which in excess can impair the immune system. With 10 minutes shy of an hour of listening to uplifting dance music, British scientists found that subjects experienced increased the levels of antibodies, which fight off harmful substances that enter the body. Adding to the evidence for improved immunity, Cunningham can also attest to clients with autoimmune diseases feeling less pain while meditating to music.
Music Boosts Heart Health
In addition to lowering our stress and boosting immunity, music can slow the pulse rate, improve the regularity of the heartbeat and lower blood pressure. A study published in 2006 in Circulation, the journal of American Heart Association, measured the effect of rhythm, syncopation and speed of different tracks of music on respiration and cardiovascular function. Regardless of style of music, tempo was the sole factor that had a physiological affect on the body. Slower music caused a drop in heart rate and slowed the breath, while more up-tempo music increased the heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. Researchers also found that two minutes of silence between the music tracks had an even greater impact on reducing heart rate and blood pressure.
“Silence between music had the most profound relaxing effect. In fact, it acted as though it were music with a zero frequency,” said cardiologist Luciano Bernardi, MD in Circulation.
He likened the physiological effects to transcendental meditation. “First, you have to concentrate hard, giving your attention to something. Then, when you release the attention, you become very relaxed,” he said. “Music may be able to achieve the same effect.”
The Powerful Combo of Music and Meditation
Brenardi suggests that switching between fast tempo and slow tempo music may be used as a substitute for meditation to help manage cardiovascular disease. However, Cunningham believes that the combination of meditation and listening to music brings additional calming benefits.
“When we meditate, we can tap into that inner peace, like an eye of the storm. Focus in the moment, instead of stressing over past,”Cunningham said. “I try to encourage listening to music while you meditate because it helps your body and emotions get into the calm, centered space more quickly.”
Listening to slow tempo music can help to clear the mind from distracting thoughts, as well as relax the muscles. Studies show that these effects may be the reasons why youth with sleeping disorders who listen to classical music prior to bed experienced improved quality of sleep.
Cunningham teaches her clients how to quiet the mind in a comfortable situation. “Some like to meditate sitting down, and others like to while they are walking,” she said. Clients are asked to focus on their breathing, meditating on a thought or situation.
“I encourage them to meditate at least five minutes a day so they don’t feel overwhelmed,” she said. “Most people love it want to do it for more than 5 minutes.”
Music, Mood and Memory
Just as music can relax us, it can also dramatically improve our mood. Not only does playing happy, up-tempo music set the tone lifting our spirits, music actually stimulates the release of dopamine, the “feel good” hormone, which Cunningham says can make us feel a natural high. A major release of dopamine can give us tingles of pleasure when listening to a really emotionally powerful song.
Music can also give us emotional release. “One of my clients said listening to music made her cry — in a good way. It gave her emotional release,” said Cunningham.
Another surprising benefit of listening to music is that it can help people to recover memories, even if they have brain damage or dementia. Performing music is also a form of brain fitness, improving mental sharpness and clarity.
“People are feeling that release, gaining more clarity over the issues of their life and feeling happier,” said Cunningham, who also performs and records her own music.
Describing music as the universal language for the world, she believes in the importance of setting an intention when you consciously listen to music. “You already use it, you already love it, so find out what it can do for you,” Cunningham said. “If you can use something that powerful, which you already identify with, to help the body heal, it’s not as hard or overwhelming.”
She feels music engages the body, mind and soul all at the same time. “Just eating a piece of broccoli doesn’t do that,” she quips.
Readers, how does music makes you feel? Which kind music either helps you better relax and which helps pump you up?