Music for Wellness: 4 Ways Listening Is Good for You
Updated: May 21, 2019
There's no denying the impact music has upon our senses—that feeling of being transported by a song is universal.
Music can calm or amplify our emotions, and often it just makes us feel better. But why?
Actually, studies show that music plays a deep role in improving both mental and physical health. Neuroscientists have found that listening to music stimulates a release of dopamine that incites feelings of happiness and elation and, in fact, there is almost no part of the brain that isn't affected. No wonder music plays such a critical historic role in cultural and healing rituals.
Here are just some of the ways music can boost your wellbeing.
Forget about the apple—a little bit of environmental music a day can help keep the cold away, that is according to Wilkes University researchers who, in 1997, found a connection between listening to 30 minutes of soothing Muzak a day and increased levels of salivary secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA)—you know, that little antibody that's on the starting lineup for defending our bodies against disease. It's important to note that students listening to the radio didn't show the same response.
Yet another study, by the Society of Critical Care Medicine, found that listening to Mozart's piano sonatas helped soothe critically ill patients, reducing the amount of sedative drugs needed by lowering their stress hormone levels as well as decreasing levels of interleukin-6, a pro-inflammatory cytokine associated with diabetes, Alzheimer's, multiple myeloma, and depression.
If you've ever taken a SoulCycle class or strapped your iPod (RIP) to your arm before going out for a run, this one feels like a given. But there's scientific evidence to back up that rap- and EMD-heavy workout playlist. Participants in a study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology (2009) were asked to walk on a treadmill until they were tired, some with music and some without. Those who moved to the music walked for longer durations and said they felt better afterwards.
About that motivation: Research has shown that increased levels of dopamine in the brain is tied to motivation and, in turn, stimulates learning and memory. In a study published in Memory & Cognition (Jan. 2014), adults studying Hungarian were asked to speak, talk in a rhythmic manner, or sing phrases in the language. Afterward, when asked to recall the terms they had learned, the singing group remembered significantly more, and more accurately, than the others.
This effect translates beyond simple memory exercises. Researchers in Finland and at U.C. San Francisco found that singing and listening to music improved not only mood but also orientation, memory, and attention span in patients with dementia (Gerontologist, 2014).
If you've ever tuned into Spotify's Peaceful Piano playlist just before bed, you know instinctively that listening to chill, instrumental music calms the mind and body, even during times of stress. According to a study published the Journal of Music Therapy (2001), music has the ability to prevent anxiety-induced increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure, as well as lower cortisol levels (all of which are biological signifiers of stress). It can even have a more powerful effect than an orally administered anxiety drug in surgery patients, according to Swedish research published in 2009. In 2013, research done at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London found that music had an immense impact in reducing anxiety, heart rate, and pain in children with cardiac and/or respiratory problems.
Now Listen Up
Stimulate your mind and soothe your body with a live performance at the San Francisco Symphony, where this season's lineup—including Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto (Apr. 12-14); an evening of chamber music (Apr. 15); Brahms' Violin Concerto with Ray Chen (May 3-5) and the Labèque sisters on the piano performing Tchaikovsky and Bruch (May 31 - June 2)—promises not just a gorgeous night on the town—it's actually good for you.