Plato had it right when he espoused the merits of music: “I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning,” he said. Decades later, as science, music and philosophy have all progressed, we learn that music is more than just beautiful noise — it can affect our health, too.
Read on to learn more about some of the health benefits of music.
1. Helps stimulate your left brain
In the theory of left and right brain dominance, proponents believe that each side of the brain controls different types of thinking: The left-brain is said to be the side of logic, reason and organization, while the right fosters creativity. The areas of our brain that process music and language are thought to be shared, too, and a recent study from the University of Liverpool only confirmed that. How so? New research found that musical training might increase blood flow to the left hemisphere of the brain.
“It was fascinating to see that the similarities in blood flow signatures could be brought about after just half an hour of simple musical training,” said Amy Spray, who conducted the research as part of an internship.
2. Helps your memory
Studies have shown that musical activity — especially activity formed earlier in life and continued throughout — helps to slow the decline of the aging brain. In one 2011 study, seventy individuals aged 60-83 were divided into three groups. The participants either had no musical training, one to nine years of musical study, or at least ten years of musical training; and all had similar levels of education and fitness, and didn’t show any evidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Overwhelmingly, the high-level musicians had statistically significant higher scores than the non-musicians on cognitive tests related to naming objects and cognitive flexibility, or the brain’s ability to adapt to new information.
“Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging,” said the lead researcher on the study, clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Brenda Hanna-Pladdy. “Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.”
3. Helps keep the heart healthy
Much like the findings that laughter is good for the heart, music follows in that same vein. Researchers have found that emotions aroused by joyful music have a healthy effect on blood vessel function. In the study, participants were asked to select music that made them feel good. Researchers exposed them to this “happy” music and monitored them, and they also listened to music participants said made them feel anxious. The results were staggering: The average upper arm blood vessel diameter increased 26 percent after the joyful music phase, while listening to music that caused anxiety narrowed blood vessels by six percent.
“I was impressed with the highly significant differences both before and after listening to joyful music as well as between joyful and anxious music,” said principal investigator Michael Miller, M.D., director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
4. Helps you get a good night’s sleep
In a study focused on those with sleep complaints, listening to relaxing classical music before bed was found to be an effective intervention in reducing sleeping problems. Because music can reduce sympathetic nervous system activity, decrease anxiety, blood pressure, and heart and respiratory rate, it is also widely believed to have positive effects on sleep via muscle relaxation and distraction from thoughts. While listening to loud, aggressive music seemingly has an adverse affect, it can still also serve a purpose in the form of stress relief; helping you to let off steam and aggression.
5. Helps depression
A Finnish study found that when combined with standard treatment methods for depression, music significantly helped to improve patient outcomes. Though research in this area continues to develop, scientists believe that the addition of music gives patients another arena in which to express their emotions. The Cochrane Collaboration, a not-for-profit group that reviews health care issues, also compared five randomized trials that studied the effects of music therapy.
The studies varied greatly: Some studies looked at the effects of providing music therapy to patients who were receiving drug treatment for depression; and others compared music therapy to traditional talk therapy. Nevertheless, in four out of five of the trials, music therapy was found to work better at easing depression symptoms than therapies that did not employ music.
6. Helps increase pain threshold
Overall, music has been found to have positive effects on pain management; both in regards to chronic pain such as osteoarthritis, disc problems and rheumatoid arthritis, and pain during medical procedures. In one specific study, intraoperative music was found to decrease postoperative pain, and postoperative music therapy helped to reduce anxiety, pain and morphine consumption. Not only does music serve as a distractor, it also helps to relax by natural slowing breathing and heartbeat. Furthermore, music can help heal by causing the body to release endorphins.