Music and health

Music and Health

Have you ever noticed how your favorite music can make you feel better?

All summer long my hometown Pula has been resonating with music.  Great sounds from classic, jazz, electronic, evergreens…This week I have been attending several Mozart concerts that are performed in places such as the  main city square, the underground of the ancient Roman amphitheater and in small halls. The great, pleasant feelings that this music leaves to the audience made me research a little about it and health. Mozart’s tunes are especially known for its amazing effects and benefits on people, which was well elaborated in the book called The Mozart Effect by Don Campbell. Incredible how these melodies work on our mood, our brain and our capacity to learn!

Being a music lover, I am probably biased in believing that music does have a strong effect on our health or at least on our peace of mind and stress reduction.

Stefan Koelsch, a senior research fellow in neurocognition at the University of Sussex in Brighton, summarizes the healing effects of it by saying, “I can’t say music is a pill to abolish diseases. But … So many pills have horrible side effects, both physiological and psychological. Music has no side effects, or no harmful ones.”

In her book „The power of Music“, author Elena Mannes shares the story of a stroke patient who has lost the ability to speak. After struggling to re-learn normal speech patterns, the patient makes a breakthrough by singing her words rather than saying them. This approach is known as melodic intonation therapy and it engages the right side of the brain more than normal speech. As a result, this different section of the brain can stand in as a replacement for the normal language area and be used to communicate through song.

At first glance, this story may seem like a very specific way to combine music and health, but it actually provides a good indication of the state of music therapy. There are many stories about music being used to help Parkinson’s patients move, autistic children focus and learn, or multiple sclerosis patients reduce spasms. These stories, however, have no research studies supporting them. My guess is that these are individualized results which, although true, are difficult to extrapolate to the entire population.

That said, there are a handful of health benefits of singing that are well-accepted and scientifically proven.  There are some researches indicating that it can be used to relieve pain in patients. As already said,  music can be used to relieve stress and anxiety. Calming music decreases blood pressure, steadies the heart rate, and eases stress.

There is also preliminary evidence showing that listening to music can boost immune system function by decreasing stress hormones and increasing growth hormones.

Finally, there are a range of studies that link it to happiness and pleasure in different ways. Despite the differences in the individual studies, the scientific consensus on the topic is that it does stimulate the same areas of the brain that trigger pleasure in other activities. If it makes you happy, then it might be possible that it is good for your health.

These benefits sound great, but is music unique in providing these benefits? Not really but it is one of those activities that certainly can help. That is why we keep on looking for our own and the most suitable „companions and supporters“ that help us get through the difficult moments but also that bring us to those fine moods of happiness and wellbeing.

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