Enjoyment of music is a fundamental attribute of our species. Pretty much every culture that has ever lived on Earth has made music – from the most primitive to the most advanced. And, it’s not hard to understand why: whatever your genre, whether you’re a dancer or a nodder, a clapper or a swayer, music makes us feel good. Interestingly, the ‘feel-good’ aspects of music have been shown to go much further than you might imagine, delivering real benefits for your mental, emotional and physical health.
Not just noise
While it may seem like we listen with our ears, it’s really our brains that ‘hear’ music. Our brains and nervous systems are hard-wired to distinguish music from noise and to respond to rhythm and repetition, tones and tunes. Neuroscientists have found that listening to music lights up many different parts of our brain, and can stimulate a release of dopamine that can make us feel really, really good.
Old news, new news
Music has played an important role in healing and cultural rituals for centuries, which has led modern researchers to investigate exactly how it can be used to benefit health and wellness. And the results have been staggering. In some cases, music’s positive impacts on health have been more powerful than medication.
Here are just a few of the more recent findings:
1: Stress and pain reduction
Research has shown that listening to music with a slow tempo and low pitch, without lyrics or loud instrumentation, can calm people down even during highly stressful or painful events. In one study, patients who listened to such music after hernia surgery required significantly less morphine to manage their pain. And, another study involving showed music’s stress-reducing effects on patients were more powerful than anxiolytic drugs.
Music can cause a release of dopamine, which has been tied to motivation and in turn, aids with learning and memory. Which is great for students, but even more beneficial for those suffering from Alzheimers or dementia. In a 2014 study, caregivers and patients with dementia were randomly given 10 weeks of singing coaching, 10 weeks of music listening coaching, or neither. Afterwards, testing showed that singing and music listening improved mood, orientation, and memory.
3: Encourages exercise
We know it instinctively, but research supports that music does really help us get more from our workout. It has been shown that listening to music can increase the length of time we work out for, while one study even showed that when exercisers listened to music with a beat that was faster and more in-sync with their movement, their bodies used up oxygen more efficiently.