Answer: What is music?
Music has the ability to describe places, people, movies, and feelings in ways that words cannot fully capture. Scientifically speaking, music has real, demonstrable effects on our brains — melodies and tunes can increase Dopamine levels. What’s Dopamine? It’s the ‘happy’ chemical that is released when you are exposed to something positive — it reinforces behaviors and encourages you to seek out more of whatever caused the Dopamine release. Other examples of times when this chemical is released in your brain include: when you eat foods
you enjoy, see someone you love, or have sex. It is a chemical that acts on the reward system in your brain, so clearly, as far as science is concerned, music is good for you!
Research has even shown that listening to music can have positive effects on the way you learn as well as your physical and mental health.
—Learning. Music has been shown to engage many of the same areas of the brain that are involved in language processing, memory, and other critical thinking skills that are necessary for academic success. One study showed that students who participated in music programs scored 63 points higher on the verbal and 44 points higher on the math
sections of the SATs compared to students with no music participation.
So, maybe your kid’s addiction to Spotify isn’t the worst thing after all!
—Heart healthy. Eating your vegetables and engaging in exercise are not the only way you can keep your ticker ticking. Researchers have shown that listening to music brings about a feeling of joy that is linked to the dilation of blood vessels. This corresponds to a decrease in blood pressure and the amount of work that the heart must
—Anxiety. Rhythms go back to the womb where babies hear their mother’s heart beating and her lungs breathing. They are both natural and life-sustaining sounds. In fact, pediatricians often recommend replicating these sounds to soothe a baby or get them to fall sleep.
Thus, it is no surprise that listening to and playing music decreases levels of cortisol — a “fight or flight” stress hormone — even in adolescents and adults. This introduces the potential to use music in situations where previously we had to resort to drugs.
—Patient care. Hospitals and healthcare settings have begun to appreciate how music can be soothing to patients where they may feel they have lost control from their external environment. It can create a calm, personal atmosphere and block out some of the disturbances that surround them. One study showed that listening to music before surgery may be more effective than drugs when it comes to reducing anxiety. What’s the science behind this? Music may cause neurons in brain stem — a primitive part of the brain — to sync with the beat. A slow beat leads to relaxation.
—Exercise. Wanna run faster? Then put on your MP3 player. Music has been shown to increase physical endurance by as much a 15 percent! It helps decrease the perception of effort during exercise as well as increase energy efficiency. This may be due to the “feeling state” that music brings about. Even though you are working out at a very high intensity you are feeling more positive.
Does classical, hip-hop, country, or the blues work best? As a general rule of thumb, if you want to relax, consider songs with slower tempo and fewer key changes. If you are trying to increase your endurance during exercise, consider a faster tempo to increase your stride.
However, just like some people prefer pizza to hamburgers, it depends on your individual preference and experience. If you grew up with rock ‘n’ roll you may find it both relaxing as well as uplifting.
Alternatively, certain songs or genres may be associated with unpleasant experiences or memories and fail to provide the benefits that have been discussed.
You do not have to be Beethoven or major in music to experience the benefits of music. In addition to bringing about the same joys you feel when you eat your favorite meal, music can help enhance building blocks to learning, keep you calm, and improve your health. So, crank up your speakers, and start rocking out to whatever tunes makes you smile today!
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Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.