Can a song improve your health?

Have you ever noticed how a song can change your mood? Music has a way of moving us, and sometimes we can’t help but give in to the emotions of a song. But those special songs that pull on your heart strings may do more than just alter your mood. In fact, a new study found they can actually be the key to improving your health.

As part of the study, researchers divided 120 participants into two groups: one who listened to music for 25 minutes and another who had silence. The first group was divided once again into three subgroups, listening to music by either Mozart, Strauss or the pop band ABBA. Blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels (responsible for managing stress and using sugar and fat for energy) were measured before and after the individuals’ exposure to the music or lack of music.

They found that Mozart and Strauss notably lowered blood pressure and heart rate; however, no considerable effect was seen for the participants who listened to ABBA.

This is no surprise to BettiAnne Atkins, an Advocate registered nurse at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., who says the most therapeutic genre of music is classical, as it shows significant results in calming patients. Still, Atkins notes that patients respond best when exposed to their favorite personal songs.

Interestingly, the group that sat in silence did experience lowered blood pressure, but not nearly as much as those exposed to the classical music. And in terms of gender, cortisol concentrations decreased more in the men who listened to Mozart or Strauss than they did in the women in either group. The researchers noted that while gender may play a role in the music’s effectiveness, the overall influence of music was far greater than that of silence in terms of changes in blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels.

According to another study, music therapy’s greatest benefits are seen in the autonomic nervous system: in terms of breathing, heartbeat and digestion.

Music not only aids physical health, but can boost psychological well-being.

“Active music engagement allows patients to reconnect with the healthy parts of themselves, even in the face of a debilitating condition or disease-related suffering,” says music therapist Melanie Kwan, co-author of a study that looks at music and medicine. “When their acute pain symptoms are relieved, patients are finally able to rest.”

So what’s the right prescription when it comes to music therapy?

“Patients would benefit most from music therapy if it was offered each day for approximately 30 minutes,” Atkins suggests. She also has found that live musicians can further aid patients in calming down and recovering.

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