Music and its health benefits

Everyone loves music, no matter what culture we come from.” Most of us would agree heartily with this statement, and it is this universal bond with music that has driven academics all over the world to look into its therapeutic possibilities.

We can all think of at least one song that makes us feel something when we hear it. It could be a song that played during your wedding’s first dance, or one that reminds you of a tough breakup or the death of a loved one.

Music has been shown to increase mood, reduce pain and anxiety, and allow emotional expression. According to research, music can help our physical and mental health in a variety of ways. Our hospice and palliative care board-certified music therapist uses music therapy to supplement conventional treatment for a variety of illnesses and disease processes, ranging from anxiety, depression, and stress to pain management and improved functioning following degenerative neurologic disorders.

Given our deep emotional attachment to music, it’s probably unexpected that multiple studies have demonstrated that it can improve our mental health. According to a 2011 study by McGill University researchers in Canada, listening to music boosts the amount of dopamine produced in the brain, which is a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter, making it a viable treatment for depression.
According to a 2011 study by McGill University researchers in Canada, listening to music boosts the amount of dopamine produced in the brain, which is a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter, making it a viable treatment for depression.

MNT also reported a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry that found that listening to hip-hop music, particularly Kendrick Lamar’s, can help people understand mental illnesses.
However, researchers are rapidly discovering that the health advantages of music may extend beyond mental health, prompting some health experts to demand for music therapy to be more extensively implemented in health care settings.

In this Spotlight, we look at some of the possible health advantages of music and consider if music could be used to supplement – or even replace – current treatment options for certain disorders.

    According to studies, when music is performed, blood flows more freely. It also lowers blood pressure, lowers cortisol (the stress hormone), and raises serotonin and endorphin levels in the blood.
    The hormone dopamine is produced in the brain in response to music. An increase in dopamine production can help alleviate anxiety and despair. The amygdala, the region of the brain involved in mood and emotions, processes music directly.
    According to several studies, Bob Marley’s song “One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain” may be accurate.
    MNT reported earlier this year on a study performed by Brunel University in the United Kingdom that found music could help patients recover from surgery by reducing pain and anxiety. Researchers found that those who were played music after their treatment experienced less pain and anxiety than those who were not, and they were also less likely to need pain medication, according to 72 randomized controlled trials including over 7,000 patients who had surgery. According to the researchers, listening to quiet, calming, self-selected music “significantly reduced pain and increased functional mobility” in 22 fibromyalgia patients.
    But why does music seem to make pain go away? While the specific mechanisms are unknown, many experts believe that one reason is that music causes the production of opioids, the body’s natural pain relievers, in the brain.
    When you’re worried, you might discover that listening to your favorite music helps you relax – and there are countless studies to back this up.
    According to a study published by MNT last month, infants remained calmer for longer when they were played music rather than spoken to — even when the speech was baby language.
    The study’s authors, including Prof. Isabelle Peretz of the University of Montreal’s Center for Research on Brain, Music, and Language, hypothesized that the infants’ music had a repetitive pattern that reduced distress, possibly by promoting “entrainment” – the ability of the body’s internal rhythms to synchronize with external rhythms, such as pulse.
    During a meal, playing soothing music in the background (and dimming the lights) can help people slow down and consume less food in one sitting.
    During a strenuous workout, listening to those great fitness music will help you improve your physical performance and stamina.
    Certain songs have the capacity to remind us of specific times or incidents in our lives, some of which we would rather forget and others which make us smile. In light of this, scientists are now looking at whether music can help with memory recall.
    Barbara Else told MNT about the potential benefits of music therapy for stroke patients. “While the neuroscience and study findings around the many music therapy interventions deployed to promote speech, language, and communication are fast increasing and evolving, this is an interesting area,”
    We frequently observe positive effects when we combine our colleagues’ efforts with these patients in similar professions. There are still many unanswered questions, but the progress is encouraging.”
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Many specialists are urging for a greater use of music therapy in health care settings based on the significant evidence that music has multiple health advantages.

“Music therapists are poised and ready to assess, deliver, and document music therapy treatment, as well as consult with our colleagues (physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, physical, occupational, and speech-language pathologists, among others) to support the patient as part of the interdisciplinary team and patient care,” Else told MNT.

Else also believes that music therapy could be a viable treatment choice for some ailments, such as tension headaches.

Based on current studies, there is strong evidence that we have a far deeper relationship with music than merely an emotional one. So, the next time you put on your favorite tune, do a little dance around knowing that you’ll probably be getting some health benefits.


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