While not all of us can sing in tune, it seems we are hardwired to respond to the rhythms of music. Studies have shown that listening to your favourite tune can help improve your health and longevity.
Tune into the magic
Dr Laurel Hixon says in her article Longevity and Music as A Meaning that there is a connection between listening to a favourite tune and your health.
“Speculation about the seemingly magical connection between longevity and classical music abounds. Is the intelligence associated with this level of creativity? In a study of over 49,000 creative types, Anisimov and Zharinov (2013), reported that “persons who listen to classic music have more chance to live longer”. They attributed this to the intriguing and persistent findings surrounding the cognitive capabilities of classic musicians.”
Sharpen your mind and improve your IQ
Then there’s the Mozart Effect. This term refers to a theory that simply listening to Mozart could temporarily raise your IQ. The idea behind this is that the music itself has a direct impact on the brain. This helps us to work through logical problems, such as mathematical equations.
But how a favourite tune boosts cognitive performance isn’t clear, even to the researchers.
The speculation seems to be that listening to music (specifically Mozart) aids in the organisation of nerve cells. These nerve cells fire simultaneously, rather than randomly, in the right half of the cerebral cortex. This is the part of the brain responsible for so-called “higher functions”.
Specific types of music act as a “warm-up” for that part of the brain. This results in information being processed more efficiently. It should be noted that the improvement in IQ points is modest (only 8 or 9 IQ points – and perhaps even less) and temporary (lasting only about 15 minutes).
Listening to music while you work or study
Research linked to The Mozart Effect also suggests that even background music can improve cognition. And there is a link between different types of music and their effects. For instance, a study found that playing upbeat music led to improvements in processing speed. Simply turning on music while you work could significantly boost your mental performance and even make the workload seem lighter.
Many students listen to music while they study. Does it help to improve memory, or is it a distraction? Research suggests that it would depend on the type of music you choose. Factors such as how much the listener enjoyed the music and how musically adept they are also playing a role.
If you are musically trained…
Students who aren’t musically trained seemed to work better with positive music, whereas musically proficient students worked better with neutral music. The reason would seem to be that the students who aren’t as musically proficient relied on the upbeat tempo and positive feeling elicited through the happier music. On the other hand, musically proficient students found neutral music less distracting, and more like background music.
It’s also suggested that if you’re trying to learn a new language, singing phrases might yield a quicker improvement than simply saying them.
Music has been shown to be an excellent treatment for mental illnesses such as depression. It’s a safe and largely effective therapy that has been shown to improve mood, decrease anxiety, and may even be beneficial for stress management.
You will feel happier
It has been well documented that listening to music relaxes the mind, reduces anxiety and depression. And it doesn’t matter if those soothing and inspiring tunes come from an iPod or live from a Steinway. This effect can be even more satisfying and powerful if the music emanates from you.
Essentially, music activates multiple regions of the brain simultaneously, including those associated with memory and emotion. Because of its direct relation to the memory, it can spark neural pathways and is thus helpful for positive association.
“Hearing music by pushing a piano key or strumming a guitar creates an instant gratification,” says Jennifer Diedrich, a piano and violin instructor with Suzuki Strings in St. Petersburg, Fla. “There is that rush where you say to yourself, “Hey, I made those sounds!’”
Research led by Dr. Barry Bittman, of the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville, Pa., found that playing a musical instrument reduces stress more than other traditional relaxing activities, like reading a newspaper or magazine.
Getting a quick dopamine fix from a tune
Another major benefit is that music triggers an increase in dopamine, known as the “love hormone”, which is linked with feelings of happiness. There is also moderate evidence that dopamine can lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body.
The impact of music on stress and pain
One of the best aspects of music is that it allows us to express ourselves and communicate our feelings with others. However, it can also serve to alter the feelings and emotions of the listener. This is hardly a new idea – music has been linked to reducing and managing stress for years (consider the rise in popularity of meditation music and relaxation sounds). Music also seems to have a positive impact when it comes to pain.
Better Physical Health
Research from the Music Making and Wellness project — a five-year study that involved music experts from universities and colleges across the country — shows that the level of human growth hormone, or HGH, increased 90 per cent in seniors who were given keyboard lessons. HGH is an essential chemical that helps slow many aging conditions, like osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, and aches and pains. HGH decreases with age. After 40, as much as 50 per cent.
4 ways to get the most out of the best tunes
According to a report from the Global Council on Brain Health, entitled Music on Our Minds, you should:
- Tune into familiar music to release the most dopamine and elicit a strong response
- Listen to new music to stimulate the brain
- Dance or sing along to your favourite songs
- Try listening to music when you need to boost your mood
If you don’t listen to enough music, then this article will surely motivate you to start listening more often. And if you are already a music lover, then play on.
Anisimov, VN and Zharinov, GM (2013). “Muses and Longevity,” J Gerontol Geriat Res 2, e123.