Why You Should “Play I Some Music…”

Physical exercise

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

Who doesn’t love music? With all of the different genres of music out there, there is something for everyone. Not a day goes by where we don’t hear some type of music, whether it is on the television, in the car, in the grocery store, at the dentist’s office, at a restaurant or via our headphones at the gym.

Perhaps one of the reasons we love music is the effect it can have on our mood. For example, music can make us feel happy, motivated, relaxed, energetic and reflective.  

When you listen to or create music, it affects how you think, feel, move, and more,” says Dr. Robert Finkelstein, a neuroscientist who co-leads the National Institutes of Health’s music and health initiative.

And there are many credible studies that have explored these beneficial effects of music and focused on how it affects our brains. “Today, modern technologies are helping researchers learn more about how the brain works, what parts of the brain respond to music, and how music might help ease symptoms of certain diseases and conditions.”

How does music affect our brains?

Researchers are now able to observe images of the brain when a person is listening to music. When music stimulates the brain, the images show flickers of bright light. The areas of the brain where bright light is seen involve emotion, memory and physical movement.

These observations suggest that music may help facilitate movement. Some researchers believe in this so strongly that they investigated whether music can help people with movement disorders, like Parkinson’s disease.

Reportedly, when certain beats are embedded in music it can help people with Parkinson’s disease walk. Listening to music may also help people with Alzheimer's, dementia, traumatic brain injury, stroke, aphasia, autism and hearing loss.

Music benefits for overall health and wellness

Some people are even utilizing music therapists as part of their healthcare and wellness regimen. There are doctors who consider music an integral part of caring for their patients.

Think about it. Wouldn’t you feel a bit more relaxed if you were listening to some soothing  music before your blood pressure reading or colonoscopy?

But beyond just providing comfort, music may actually aid in pain relief.

“Those who listened to music in the operating room reported less discomfort during their procedure. Hearing music in the recovery room lowered the use of opioid painkillers,” according to one Harvard Health report.

“Listening to music reduces anxiety associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It can also quell nausea and vomiting for patients receiving chemotherapy.”

According to another report, music may provide invaluable benefits for the heart.

Music will not cancel out the effects of a bad diet and lack of exercise, “[b]ut music can help ease your recovery from a cardiac procedure, get you back to normal after a heart attack or stroke, relieve stress, and maybe even lower your blood pressure a tad.”

But keep in mind every patient is different. Music that works for one person may not work for you.

“One thrust of current research in music therapy is to see if specific sounds or tempos affect the heart regardless of the listener's musical preferences,” according to the report.

“Finding a relaxing melody that slows the heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and improves blood flow for opera buffs and rock-and-roll fans alike would make it easier to offer music therapy.”

Music and exercise

Now, I am particularly interested in music’s effect on movement. Because other than playing golf or going for a hike with my family and friends, I am not a person who enjoys exercise. I know that lifting weights and doing cardio, like running, are necessary for heart health, bone health, maintaining a healthy blood pressure and more, but these are definitely not activities I look forward to doing. I do them because I have no choice.

But after doing this research on the benefits of music, I discovered that music may enhance exercise performance and make physical activities more enjoyable.

In a recent study, scientists measured three types of brainwaves during exercise.

“This lets them compare the brain's electrical feedback while exercising outdoors to music, a podcast, or no soundtrack at all,” according to a report on the study.

“They found music rearranges the brain's electrical frequency, causing a drop in focus but enhancing enjoyment 28% more than silence and 13% more than a podcast.”

The study involved 24 people who walked 400m on an outdoor track (they set their own pace) to either a six-minute blast of Happy by Pharrell Williams, a TED Radio Hours talk about cities or nothing at all.

Researchers used certain psychological measurements to see how good the participants felt, what they focused on, how energetic or alert they felt and how tired they felt.

Results showed that music disrupted focus but improved energy levels and enjoyment (more than the podcast or not listening to anything at all). According to the study, the brain mechanisms behind these effects appear to be linked to a boost in beta frequencies in the frontal and frontal-central regions of the cortex.

So the next time I go for a workout, I will be sure to have my favorite playlist queued up.

Another study found that music helped people perform better on standard cardiac stress tests.

Cardiac stress tests allow doctors to assess a person’s fitness level or ability to start an exercise program. This tests also measures heart rate and blood pressure responses to exercise, assesses symptoms of chest pain or heart rhythm changes during exercise and even helps diagnose blockages in the heart's arteries.

If you have not had a cardiac stress test, you have probably seen them done on television. They are usually done on a treadmill or stationary bike, while a person has electrodes placed on their chest to record the heart's activity.

Results of the study revealed that listening to music during a standard cardiac stress test may help lengthen the time someone is able to perform this particular type of test.

Stress tests last for a maximum of 20 minutes, but the average healthy person lasts around 7-8 minutes. The treadmill speed and incline is increased every three minutes. So it doesn’t take long to make you feel as if you are really exerting yourself or running up a mountain.

So as you can see, being able to improve your time by a minute or even just 30 seconds is a big deal.

The study involved 127 patients (average age of 53). They were randomly assigned to listen to up-tempo music (mostly Latin) or listen to no music at all during the stress test. All participants had similar medical histories, including diabetes and hypertension.

On average, people who listened to music during the test were able to exercise for almost one minute longer than those who didn't listen to music. One minute is a major improvement. Think about how big of a deal it would be if an Olympic runner was able to improve their running time by one minute.

“Music can have a powerful impact on our mood, signaling the brain to release feel-good and energy-boosting chemicals. While earlier studies have looked at how music might influence specific markers of heart health, this study is the first to evaluate its impact on exercise tolerance during cardiac stress testing—widely used to measure the effects of exercise on the heart,” the report says.

Music and metabolism

Music may even have a positive impact on your metabolism.

“Research has established a role for music in the regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, the sympathetic nervous system, and the immune system, which have key functions in the regulation of metabolism and energy balance,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

And, of course, in order to be able to listen to music, you have to be able to hear. And if you want to hear well, you have to take care of your ears.

How can you be proactive about listening to music?

Funny enough, some research suggests that listening to music may actually help with hearing loss.

But here are also a few things you can do to care for your ears:

  • Use ear plugs around very loud noises
  • Be mindful about the volume of music when you are wearing headphones
  • Get your hearing tested. If you show signs of hearing loss, you can work with a competent healthcare professional to help prevent further hearing loss
  • Be mindful of medications. There are some medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that may cause hearing loss if not taken properly and monitored. Some of these drugs include aspirin, antimalarials and antibiotics. Speak with your doctor about all medications you are currently taking.
  • Control your blood sugar and manage your diabetes if you are diabetic. Having a high blood sugar may damage vessels and nerves in the ears which can lead to some hearing loss.
  • Eat healthy. Some studies suggest that eating a nutrient and antioxidant rich diet may help prevent hearing loss. Like with most things regarding our health, eating healthy may help prevent inflammation and inflammation may be the root cause of a myriad of diseases and health problems. Avoid processed foods and excess sugar which can cause inflammation throughout the body.
  • Get your magnesium. The American Academy of Audiology reports that permanent and temporary changes in auditory function have been linked to nutritional deficiencies of magnesium.
  • Undergo periodic nutrition testing to monitor the levels of critical nutrients necessary to keep your hearing intact. If your results show that you are nutritionally imbalanced, work with a competent healthcare professional to tweak your diet and/or take good quality supplements.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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