“One good thing about music is when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Bob Marley
Music is pretty big in my life, and probably in yours. As I write this I am waiting to watch my favorite band’s set be live-streamed from Lollapalooza, a festival in Chicago (my favorite because my son is playing). It is raining cats and dogs! It looks like a monsoon! Still, I see thousands and thousands of people outside, singing and dancing, hands waving in the air, cellphones taking photos, yelling and screaming, having a wonderful time. They’ve been there all weekend, they don’t mind getting VERY wet – they’re just having fun. And I am having a great time watching them and tapping my feet to the beat.
I’ll bet they don’t know though that listening to music they love can improve their health. SHHHH – DON’T TELL THEM, it might make them enjoy themselves less.
How DOES music affect our health??
We all know of course that people run faster on the treadmill to faster music, and so music helps us with our fitness that way. We know that music can lift our mood – or make us feel sad or anxious – movie soundtracks are made with this in mind. And, we sing babies to sleep with lullabies.
A little light reading brought me to some other interesting things I did not know.
1. Activity – it will probably come as no surprise that listening to music will increase our activity level, any music with any rhythmic beat will do that, but the faster the music (up to a point) the more it makes us move, and even moving in our chairs is helpful.
2. Appetite – Did you that soft music and dim lights make us eat less? One Cornell University study showed that diners at a fast food restaurant actually ate less when they were randomly selected to eat in a nice dining room with candlelight, and soft music, instead of in in the ordinary restaurant dining room with bright lights and bright colors. The researchers predicted that people in nice dining room would eat more, since they were at the restaurant longer, had a chance to want dessert and such, but they actually ate an average of 175 fewer calories!
3. Cardio – Did you know that listening to (any) music you enjoy increases your blood flow and reduces your blood pressure? A while back I wrote an article on the healing benefits of laughter and I was delighted to find that laughter actually increased blood flow and oxygen and reduced blood pressure, along with most of the other things music will do for us. Then, this weekend, I read an article about a 6-8 month study that reported the same cardio benefits when listening to enjoyable music! In this study they actually measured the effect of music the blood vessels and found that they expanded with enjoyable music and contracted with music that made the subjects anxious. I am thinking that this could be related to the fact that music lights up the same pleasure centers of our brain as do food and sex…and laughter.
4. Metabolism – Did you know that listening to music can increase – or decrease- your metabolism? I read a story of a woman who claimed to have lost 100 pounds just by listening to the music of Croatian musicians “2 CELLOS” intnsively every day, without changing her lifestyle otherwise. She just loved to hear them play and was very surprised when the weight came off. They play upbeat modern pop and rock music adaptations on the cello and she couldn’t get enough of their music.
That started me looking for a research link between music and metabolism – and I found this NIH study that said music can indeed directly affect our metabolism, affect the way food moves through our gut, affect our energy levels, and more. These things happen because music can affect the nervous system that then controls these body processes.
5. Pain – Did you know that many studies show that listening to music reduces pain sensations? Many surgeons are even using music now in the operating room. What kind of music works best? The kind you enjoy!
6. Sleep – Did you know that listening to music at night could help you get a better night’s sleep (which in turn boosts your metabolism?)? A meta-analysis of studies showed that listening to slow-medium tempo music you enjoy – with low pitches and tranquil melodies – can reliably increase both the length and depth of our sleep. This boosts memory, metabolism, immune system and more.
7. Stress – Listening to music can reduce stress – and that pesky cortisol that keeps the weight from coming off and makes all kinds of mischief through inflammation in the body. This one is purely a matter of personal taste, but music has an affect not only on relaxation but also on those unruly negative thoughts that can cause the stress in the first place. What music? The music that relaxes me drives my grandson up a wall and vise versa, but listening to plenty of what you enjoy will reduce your stress levels every time. It does not have to be meditative music…although reducing the speed of your brain waves through meditation is certainly another excellent way to reduce stress.
Isn’t it wonderful to learn that something we all love so much can also be so good for us for a change?