If you've ever crooned a cranky baby to sleep or pumped up a flagging workout with Top 40 hits, you know the power of music. Now new research has documented impressive health benefits locked within the tunes you love best. Here are some of the most promising:
Lowering Blood Pressure
In one Italian study, listening to classical, Celtic, or Indian music while consciously breathing slowly for 30 minutes a day trimmed systolic blood pressure four points - on par with cutting back on salt.
Relaxing with music - again, for 30 minutes a day - lowered the stress hormone cortisol better than chilling out in silence, a Swedish researcher reported, and deep breathing while listening to music eased anxiety as effectively as a massage in a study at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle.
Really tuning in to a melody blunted sharp pain in a University of Utah study in which 143 brave volunteers listened to tapes while receiving brief electric shocks.
Music does more than provide distraction, says Joke Bradt, Ph.D., an associate professor in the creative arts therapies department at Drexel University and a board-certified music therapist. "It's first processed in the brain's medulla, which controls basic functions like breathing and heart rate. That may explain the blood pressure and cardio payoffs. Music also reduces activity in the amygdala, an area that regulates negative emotions, while acting on neural systems that stimulate pleasure - like the lift you get from eating a wonderful piece of chocolate."
To Get the Most From Your Listening
Choose Your Favorite
In studies, everything from Frank Sinatra to J.S. Bach has worked. "There's no style of music or number of beats per minute that's best," notes Bradt. "If Lady Gaga relaxes you, listen to her." One caveat: "For stress relief or blood pressure reduction, pick music that won't evoke disturbing emotions," she advises. If it reminds you of your ex-husband, don't play it.
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"So many of us play music all day as sonic wallpaper, but that won't work here," Bradt says. "Save a favorite song or two. Then sit down or lie down, and really listen to it purposefully."
Pick the Right System
Both headphones and speakers work, says Bradt. "But if you're worried you won't hear the phone, playing music through speakers will be more relaxing." Headphones may seem like the obvious choice for calming nerves or easing pain during a medical procedure, but without sensory input, you may become more anxious. Ask your doctor if he can turn on the radio.
What's your favorite song to relax to? Let me know in the comments!
- by Sari Harrar
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