Isn’t it interesting how hearing a particular song can bring back a special memory or make you feel happy or calm or pumped up? People are born with the ability to tell the difference between music and noise. Our brains actually have different pathways for processing different parts of music including pitch, melody, rhythm, and tempo. And, fast music can actually increase your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure, while slower music tends to have the opposite effect.
While the effects of music on people are not fully understood, studies have shown that when you hear music to your liking, the brain actually releases a chemical called dopamine that has positive effects on mood. Music can make us feel strong emotions, such as joy, sadness, or fear—some will agree that it has the power to move us. According to some researchers, music may even have the power to improve our health and well-being.
Though more studies are needed to confirm the potential health benefits of music, some studies suggest that listening to music can have the following positive effects on health.
- Improves mood. Studies show that listening to music can benefit overall well-being, help regulate emotions, and create happiness and relaxation in everyday life.
- Reduces stress. Listening to ‘relaxing’ music (generally considered to have slow tempo, low pitch, and no lyrics) has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in healthy people and in people undergoing medical procedures (e.g., surgery, dental, colonoscopy).
- Lessens anxiety. In studies of people with cancer, listening to music combined with standard care reduced anxiety compared to those who received standard care alone.
- Improves exercise. Studies suggest that music can enhance aerobic exercise, boost mental and physical stimulation, and increase overall performance.
- Improves memory. Research has shown that the repetitive elements of rhythm and melody help our brains form patterns that enhance memory. In a study of stroke survivors, listening to music helped them experience more verbal memory, less confusion, and better focused attention.
- Eases pain. In studies of patients recovering from surgery, those who listened to music before, during, or after surgery had less pain and more overall satisfaction compared with patients who did not listen to music as part of their care.
- Provides comfort. Music therapy has also been used to help enhance communication, coping, and expression of feelings such as fear, loneliness, and anger in patients who have a serious illness, and who are in end-of-life care.
- Improves cognition. Listening to music can also help people with Alzheimer’s recall seemingly lost memories and even help maintain some mental abilities.
- Helps children with autism spectrum disorder. Studies of children with autism spectrum disorder who received music therapy showed improvement in social responses, communication skills, and attention skills.
- Soothes premature babies. Live music and lullabies may impact vital signs, improve feeding behaviors and sucking patterns in premature infants, and may increase prolonged periods of quiet–alert states.
Music is a source of great interest for Dominick Albano, a pharmacist and Vice President of Global Medical Information, Pfizer. “I’ve played guitar for 35 years,” says Dominick. “It’s always been my personal way of expressing my creativity. I use music as a source of balance, to relieve stress, and as a source of enjoyment in my life.”
Dominick took guitar lessons when he was in high school, but gradually stopped. However, during his first 2 months in pharmacy school, Dominick realized that he needed something to offset the heavily science-based education. “I started taking guitar lessons again because I needed a sense of balance in my life. I wanted to immerse myself in the science that I would need for my career while still nurturing my creative side.”
Today, Dominick credits music with helping him maintain his overall well-being. “Being healthy doesn’t just mean you don’t have an illness or medical condition. It’s much more than that. People need a sense of well-being too. That’s where music, and the arts, can fit in—it does for me, at least.”
In terms of music’s positive impact on his job, Dominick says, “I believe that flexing my creative muscles through music helps me to think differently and to be a better problem solver.” Dominick recommends expanding your musical horizons by listening to or playing music that’s different from what you’re used to.
Dominick also looks at music as a healthy option that people may use to help manage stress or anxiety. “You don’t have to play a musical instrument to get the health benefits of music, though you can.” He recommends turning off the TV (which can sometimes provoke stress) and having enjoyable or relaxing music on in the background during your regular activities, such as cooking or exercising.