Upbeat songs get our toes tapping. Sad songs can reduce us to tears. But music has many more powerful effects on the body you might not even realize. Here are eight surprising health benefits of music.
1. Keeps your brain young
Just like reps in the gym exercise your body, music trains the brain, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. “If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool,” a Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist says. “It provides a total brain workout.”
For optimal benefits, keep expanding your music library as you age, instead of constantly listening to your old favorites. Unlike familiar songs, new music forces the brain to work to understand it. And this helps you maintain an active, creative mind.
2. Helps you recall memories
Have you ever heard an old song and flashed back to a specific moment in your youth? Recalling memories is much easier for your brain if there’s a song attached to them. “Reach for familiar music, especially if it stems from the same time period that you are trying to recall,” Johns Hopkins says. “Listening to the Beatles might bring you back to the first moment you laid eyes on your spouse, for instance.”
This recall boost can be especially helpful for people with dementia . “Because the ability to engage with music remains intact late into the disease process, music therapy can help to evoke memories, reduce agitation, assist communication, and improve physical coordination,” according to Harvard Medical School .
3. Reduces chronic pain and depression
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Listening to music has the ability to reduce chronic pain and depression, according to a study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing . Researchers divided 60 people into three groups: one that listened to their favorite music, one that listened to songs the study provided and a control group. The participants had various conditions, including arthritis and disc problems, that caused them chronic pain.
At the end of the trial, the music groups reported their pain had fallen by up to 21 percent, compared to an increase in pain of 1 to 2 percent for the control group. And the music groups reported up to 25 percent less depression than the control group. Thus, the researchers concluded listening to music can help people cope with chronic pain.
4. Lessens stress
Many people turn to their favorite tunes to relieve stress. And science has found that’s a pretty good idea. One study gave 60 healthy women a psychosocial stress test after they either listened to music, listened to the sound of rippling water or rested in silence. The researchers found the participants who listened to music experienced a faster physical recovery from the stress compared to the other groups.
Furthermore, similar research has found people undergoing medical procedures experience less anxiety and discomfort when they listen to music, according to Harvard Medical School. Consequently, they have less of a need for sedatives and painkillers.
5. Restores speech
Music therapy is an important tool for people who experience damage — such as a stroke or an injury — to the left-brain region responsible for speech. “Because singing ability originates in the right side of the brain, people can work around the injury to the left side of their brain by first singing their thoughts and then gradually dropping the melody,” according to Harvard Medical School.
Both the melody and rhythm of music seem to help promote speech, research has found. In fact, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords used this technique to relearn how to speak after she was shot in the head.
6. Aids patients undergoing cancer therapies
Just like music can help patients manage pain and stress of medical procedures, it also can help those undergoing cancer treatments. “Listening to music reduces anxiety associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy,” according to Harvard Medical School. “It can also quell nausea and vomiting for patients receiving chemotherapy.”
A review of studies on cancer patients also found music is effective at lessening pain, as well as fatigue. Plus, it can reduce recovery and hospitalization time and improve patients’ quality of life.
7. Enhances exercise and physical therapy
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Have you ever skipped a workout because you forgot your headphones and couldn’t listen to your music? You’re not alone. Many people swear by music while they exercise — and for good reason. “Most people have an instinct to synchronize their movements and expressions with music,” according to Scientific American . And this rhythmic movement can help the body to use energy more efficiently. In fact, one study on cyclists found those who kept pace with music used less oxygen than cyclists who did not.
Plus, because of its effects on the body, music can help those undergoing physical therapy. “Music therapy enhances people’s physical, psychological, cognitive, and emotional functioning during physical rehabilitation programs,” according to Harvard Medical School.
8. Improves heart health
A good song can warm your heart in more ways than you might realize. Music can actually change your brain chemistry, resulting in cardiovascular benefits, according to Harvard Medical School . Studies have found listening to music can relax arteries to improve blood vessel function. Plus, after physical exertion, music can more rapidly return your heart rate and blood pressure back to baseline levels.
And don’t fret if you have a very specific taste in music. “Research suggests that patient-selected music shows more beneficial effects than music chosen by someone else,” Harvard Medical School says. So listen to whatever you’re in the mood for, and let your heart sing its praises.
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