When a favorite song comes on the radio, we all turn up the volume and listen more closely or sing along—and instantly feel better than we did moments before. It turns out that there’s a lot of science behind this phenomenon.
New research in the field of music therapy continues to expand experts’ understanding of how music contributes to good health. Whether your taste runs to Bach, the Beatles or Beyoncé, you can use music therapy techniques at home to boost immunity, reduce stress, ease certain symptoms, or just feel and function better overall.
“You don’t need to read music, play an instrument or even sing on key to benefit from music therapy. The ability to respond to music is natural within every person,” said Barbara Reuer, PhD, director of MusicWorx Inc., a music therapy practice and training program in San Diego.
Music’s profound effects on health have been demonstrated in many studies. Examples…
- When volunteers listened to joyful music, their blood vessels dilated by 26% on average, improving the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients.
- Increased levels of germ-fighting immunoglobulins were found in the saliva of study participants after they sang and played instruments.
- Patients listened to music of their choice before, during and after eye surgery…a control group did not listen to music. In both groups, blood pressure rose just before the operation. But in the music group, blood pressure quickly came back down, whereas in the control group, it remained elevated during the procedure.
- Stroke patients with impaired vision on one side could perceive objects more accurately while listening to music they enjoyed than while in silence or listening to music they did not like.
In a nutshell: Music has been shown to…
- Boost the immune system.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Ease chronic and acute pain.
- Relieve nausea.
- Improve muscle control (for instance, in Parkinson’s patients).
- Promote visual and auditory abilities.
- Improve brain function, focus and memory (including in Alzheimer’s patients).
- Reduce stress, anxiety and muscle tension.
- Combat insomnia.
- Lift mood.
While almost anyone can benefit from music, for a person with a significant health problem, it is most effective to work with a board-certified music therapist, Dr. Reuer suggested. Treatment might include listening to specific types of music, singing, songwriting, playing simple instruments, moving to music and/or doing tactile exercises involving vibration. Some insurance policies cover the cost. Referrals: American Music Therapy Association, 301-589-3300, www.MusicTherapy.org.
TRY THIS AT HOME
For an emotional and physical boost, you can tap into the power of music therapy on your own every day. Dr. Reuer explained, “You’re not just putting on a CD as background music. Instead, you are engaged in the music—for instance, by singing or playing an instrument or by listening to music in a focused, intentional way.” What to do…
- Pick appropriate music. No single style of music is more therapeutic than all the rest. What matters most is the effect that you are trying to achieve and your personal reaction to the music, Dr. Reuer said. For instance, to promote relaxation, listen to music that you find soothing while you practice deep breathing. For pain management, look for music that focuses your mind on things other than your discomfort. To stimulate memory, experiment with music you enjoyed as a teen. To lower blood pressure, use a home blood pressure monitor before and after each music session to identify music that has the desired effect for you.
- Sing or hum (remembering to breathe deeply) in the car or around the house. If you used to play an instrument, take it up again. Dr. Reuer urged, “Try not to pass judgment on your singing abilities or get frustrated if you make mistakes as you play your instrument. The idea is to be in the moment and just let go.”