the benefits of music for mind and body

early music’s healing powers

The benefits of music have been recognised from the dawn of medicine. In the ancient world, music played a vital role. Its importance is emphasised by the portrayal of Apollo as the Greek god of both music and medicinal healing.

Pythagoras and Plato believed music could accelerate the healing process and the physician Asclepiades is reported as restoring an insane man to health through music. These early physicians speculated about the effects of music on body chemistry and specific recommendations were formulated for its use against both mental and physical illness

mediaevalMusic also played a fundamental part in the life of several medieval English hospitals, not just the rich ones, and was far more than the mere background sound it can be today. Music was thought to offer considerable physical benefits: it was thought to raise the spirits, cheer the soul and help reduce stress. Hospitals would employ choirs in the 13-1500s.

The relationship between music and medicine continued into the 1600’s. Sir Francis Bacon, in his book The Advancement of Learning, Book II’, 1605 stated

`The poets did well to conjoin Music and Medicine in Apollo; because the office of medicine is but to tune this curious harp of man’s body and to reduce it to harmony’. 

music in the modern world

Modern science has examined the relationship further and continues to support the beneficial effect of music.

What puts the smooth into classics?

Music that has a rate of 60 beats per minute or less has been associated with beneficial alpha brain waves and lower respiratory rates.

Neonatal notesbabymusic

In neonatal units the playing of classical music was found to be associated with increased baby weight gain, lower respiratory rates and lower salivary levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Standley 2002

The food of love …or at least the heart

After a heart attack, music reduces anxiety White JM Am J Crit Care 1999 and music perceived by the listener as ‘joyful’ seems to speak directly to the blood vessels where it enhances blood flow. However, different music can have the opposite effect – heavy metal and rap music has been associated with a reduction in healthy blood flow. Miller et al, American Heart Association.

Weekly music therapy played to cardiac patients has also been seen to reduce levels of stress hormones and markers of inflammation such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and interleukin-6 and to be associated with reduction in episodes of congestive cardiac failure Okada et al In Heart J 2009

Dancing to dopamine4.1.1

Benefits to cognitive function have been associated with music. Animal studies have demonstrated a link between music and higher levels of synthesis of the chemical dopamine Sutoo etc al Brain Res 2004. Higher levels of dopamine have been seen to correlate with enhanced alertness, information processing and memory Schuk et al Fundam Clin Pharmacol 2002 and in improved cognitive function in the cognitively impaired Nagaraja Am J Psychiatry 2001.

In a Finnish study of 60 patients following a stroke, randomized to music, audio books or control groups and assessed at baseline, 3 and 6 months, the group receiving music had greater improvements in verbal memory and focused attention than either of the other 2 groups. The music receiving group also had reduced levels of depression and confusion than the control group. Sakarmo et al, Brain 2008 and editorial Lancet, 2008.

operating roomMusic and the operating room

Music can be used to assist in procedure, in operations and in recovery. In a meta-analysis of several studies into endoscopy procedures music reduced pain-killer requirements by 21%, sedation requirements by 15%, subjective levels of anxiety by 8% and procedure time by 21%. Rudin et al, Endocsopy 2007.

Similar work with patients receiving a hernia repair found that music played either during the operation or afterwards reduced perceived pain levels, anxiety and morphine requirements Nilsson Eur J Anaesth 2005.

 Another study asked 50 surgeons to perform complex mental arithmetic under three sets of conditions: (1) with no music; (2) while investigator-selected music was played; and (3) while the surgeon’s preferred choice of music was played. The investigator-selected music was Pachelbel’s Canon in D, selected because it is often used in commercially available `stress-reduction’ tapes. The speed and accuracy of task performance were recorded, and physiological parameters reflecting stress levels measured. Both speed and accuracy were significantly greater when surgeon-selected music was played than under the other two conditions. Physiological parameters reflecting stress levels were consistently highest in the no-music situation, next highest when experimenter-selected music was played and lowest when surgeon-selected music was played. Allen K JAMA 1994. Other work has found similar effects on spatial task performance.

Post-operatively, one American intensive care unit has employed a harpist to play to patients after their cardiac bypass procedure. This has been found to be associated with reductions in blood pressure, resting heart rate and stress hormone levels.

Running at the speed of sound

Marathon star Paula Radcliffe, Olympic rower James Cracknell and runner Haile Gebrselassie all recognise the importance of music to their training. ‘Techno’ style music is associated with higher levels of endorphins and adrenalines, whereas ‘classical’ music is associated with recued levels of stress hormones.

Wound healing and pain relief

Stress can influence chemical responses in the early phase (the first 24 hours) of the healing of skin wounds, through hormone mediated changes and recruitment and activation of inflammation associated blood cells at the wound site .

The use of Mozart in a study of post-operative patients in critical care found that when their sedation was withdrawn, the music group not only had less need for the re-introduction of sedation but also beneficial changes in the levels of chemicals that affect the immune response. Conrad et al Crit Care Med 2007.

A Cochrane Review of Muisc for pain relief in 2009 examined 51 studies and concluded that there is an effect of music on acute, chronic and cancer pain intensity and need for pain killing treatment.

More singing, less bugs

Choir members will be especially pleased to note that singing has also been found to be associated with higher levels of secretory immunoglobulin A, a protein that protects against viral infection. Kreutz et al 2004