I have a friend who very recently underwent a painful procedure on her spine. Already aware of the agony that was headed her way due to previous surgeries, she listened to an iPod’s worth of relaxing classical and folk music before and after her surgery. The result? While she was not completely without pain, she did confirm that she felt significantly less pain following this procedure than after her previous ones.
To be fair, I cannot prove that my friend’s decreased post-surgery pain was due entirely to music. But hers is not the lone story of someone using music to improve their physical condition. It is now so common, in fact, that researchers have begun looking for applications in healthcare. One example is their attempt to help patients during post-surgery recovery or improving outcomes for Alzheimer’s patients. In certain instances, music’s positive impact on health have been more potent than medication.
Neuroscientists now know that listening to music increases positive emotions which stimulate spurts of dopamine. These spurts can make us feel good, and sometimes even euphoric, so it’s no surprise that music is an increasingly valuable tool in the fight for good physical and mental health.
Here are three ways that music seems to impact our overall health and wellbeing:
Music reduces pain.
As in the case of my friend who found relief in her iPod, music has the ability to help with pain management. Scientists have yet to determine exactly why music can reduce pain. There is, however, a good chance that it has something to do with music’s tendency to release dopamine.
As you’ve likely discovered, stress and pain tend to go hand in hand, so music’s unique ability to sometimes reduce stress may also partly explain its pain-relieving effects.
Music decreases stress and anxiety.
Research has shown that listening to certain types of music can relax people, even during times of extreme stress and pain. Researchers discovered that the patients receiving surgery to fix their hernia who listened to music after surgery experienced decreased plasma cortisol levels and required significantly less morphine to manage their pain than those patients who did not.
In a separate study focused on patients who had undergone surgery, the stress-decreasing effects of music were more powerful than those of a particularly potent anxiolytic drug. Turns out that certain types of music can be quite the cure for the things that are stressin’ us. Good news, eh?
Music motivates us to exercise.
If you’re like me, you pretty much always need some form of music blasting in your ears as you attempt to exercise. It’s so tough to get the engine started, and the right type of energetic rock, pop, or country can work wonders. This is not an accident, by the way, as research has shown that music really does help us get going when it comes time to burn calories.
According to one study, researchers in the United Kingdom convinced thirty participants to listen to either up-tempo (or “feel-good”) music, low-tempo music, or no music at all while they exercised on a treadmill. The data of the experiment revealed that the two music conditions increased the length of time those participants worked out, seemingly giving them more energy. Those who listened to the uplifting music added that they felt better during their workout than those with slower and no music.
In what ways does music help your physical and mental health? Share your thoughts in the comments section.