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Most people have a favorite song. Do you? Songs and music have been around for centuries as one of civilizations’ first forms of storytelling. But in addition to telling us stories and allowing us to share histories, music can also have a positive impact on our health.
We've made a list of a few ways that music has been proven to affect health.
Music Makes You Happier
Research proves that when you listen to music you like, your brain releases dopamine, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Dopamine is the brain’s “motivation molecule” and an integral part of the pleasure-reward system
Music Lowers Stress and Improves Health
Listening to music you enjoy decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, which counteracts the effects of chronic stress. Evidence has shown that music has an impact on antibodies linked to immunity and higher levels of bacteria fighting cells.
Music Helps with Alzheimer’s, Anxiety, and Depression
One of the most remarkable successes of music therapy is the impact it has on the lives of Alzheimer’s patients. Advanced Alzheimer’s patients lose their ability to have interactive conversations with others and eventually stop speaking completely. But music therapy has been very successful at getting through to patients even when nothing else has. It helps alleviate depression, anxiety and agitation while improving brain function and overall quality of life.
Music therapy has proven useful for treating people with autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s, chronic pain, emotional trauma and a variety of mental disorders including depression.
Music and Schooling
Music, whether taught in or outside of school, helps students excel in the following ways:
Per the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways.
Background music enhances performance on cognitive tasks, improves accuracy and enables the completion of repetitive tasks more efficiently.
While music has long been recognized as an effective form of therapy to provide an outlet for emotions, the notion of using song, sound frequencies and rhythm to treat physical ailments is a relatively new domain, says psychologist Daniel J. Levitin, PhD, who studies the neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montreal.
A wealth of new studies is touting the benefits of music on mental and physical health. For example, in a meta-analysis of 400 studies, Levitin and his postgraduate research fellow, Mona Lisa Chanda, PhD, found that music improves the body's immune system function and reduces stress. Listening to music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery ().
One recent study on the link between music and stress found that music can help soothe pediatric emergency room patients. In the trial with 42 children ages three to 11, University of Alberta researchers found that patients who listened to relaxing music while getting an IV inserted reported significantly less pain, and some demonstrated significantly less distress, compared with patients who did not listen to music.
In 2009, researchers led by Lauren K. King of the Sun Life Financial Movement Disorders Research and Rehabilitation Centre at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, Ontario, found that short-term use of vibroacoustic therapy with Parkinson's disease patients led to improvements in symptoms, including less rigidity and better walking speed with bigger steps and reduced tremors.
It’s heart healthy - Research has shown that blood flows more easily when music is played. It can also reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, decrease cortisol (stress hormone) levels and increase serotonin and endorphin levels in the blood.
It stimulates memories - There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia but music therapy has been shown to relieve some of its symptoms. Music therapy can relax an agitated patient, improve the mood and open communication in patients
It increases workout endurance - Listening to those top workout tracks can boost physical performance and increase endurance during a tough exercise session.
So dust off your records, pull out the iPod, sign in to your Spotify account and get to listening. Not too loud in those headphones, though! You might even want to put on your dancing shoes and get an additional workout in.
How has music impacted your life? Tell us in the comments below.
Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April, 2013
JAMA Pediatrics, July, 2013
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