Benefits Of Listening To Music: Good For Your Health?

We listen to music on average for 190 minutes a day, consciously or unconsciously. We can say that music is a fundamental part of our lives. Virtually all cultures, from the most primitives to the most advanced, make and listen to music. The human brain and nervous system is able to distinguish music from noise and to respond to rhythm, repetition, tones and melodies. Is this a biological “accident” or does it serve a purpose? Scientists have not yet agreed on this. What is clear is that music has a positive effect on the body and the brain. Listening to music makes people feel better, move more, have a better sex life and lead a happier life. In this article, we discuss the results of some studies on the benefits of listening to music.

HOW DOES MUSIC REACH OUR BRAIN?

Like any sound, music comes to our ears in the form of sound waves. These waves are received by the outer ear. They go through the ear canal to the timpanum, also called the eardrum. The eardrum vibrates as soon as the sound waves come into contact with it. These vibrations are passed along the chain of small bones in the middle ear until they reach the third bone, the stirrups. From here a connection is made with the cochlea.

The cochlea is a special part of our ears. It is filled with fluid and 10.000 to 15.000 tiny hair cells, also called cilia. The sound waves that reach the cochlea via the stirrups cause the hair cells to make swinging movements. The hair cells, in turn, release chemical neurotransmitters that activate the auditory nerve and send small electrical currents to the auditory cortex, which is found in the temporal lobe of the brain.

Parts of the ear that process music

HOW DOES OUR BRAIN PROCESS MUSIC?

Here things get even more complicated. Several studies with MRI and positron emission tomography (PET) scans suggest that nerve networks in different parts of the brain bear primary responsibility for decoding and interpreting the sound waves. For example, there is a small area in the right temporal lobe that is essential in perceiving pitches (the basis for a melody), chords (several pitches at the same time) and harmony (several melodies at the same time). Another part around here is in turn responsible for decoding timbre (the quality with which the brain can distinguish between different instruments playing the same note). The cerebellum processes rhythm and the frontal lobes interpret the emotional content of music.

A healthy human brain is perfectly capable of performing these complex tasks. Yet we can say that musicians’ brains are more finely tuned to these different tasks. On the other hand, scientists also see that people with brain damage are less good at performing complex tasks. The neuroscience of music is a highly specialized field.

Parts of the brain that process music

MUSICIAN OR DOCTOR?

According to Arnold Steinhardt, co-founder and first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet, the audience for chamber music always consists of many caregivers. “From podiatrists to psychiatrists. There appears to be a mysterious and powerful underground railway linking medicine and music. Perhaps music is an equally effective means of healing, and doctors and musicians are part of a greater order serving the needs of humanity. We can almost see them as brothers and sisters.” Perhaps this is why so much research has been done on the benefits of listening to music for our health.

BENEFITS OF LISTENING TO MUSIC FOR THE MIND

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have investigated the effects of listening to music on cognitive function in general and spatial-temporal reasoning in particular. In this study, the researchers presented a number of standard IQ questions to three different groups. The first group listened to music by Mozart for 10 minutes beforehand. The second group listened to “relaxing music” for 10 minutes and the third group did not listen to any music. The result of this study was that listening to Mozart music consistently increased the test results. The researchers have checked whether this effect only occurred in classical music or whether music in general would improve mental performance. Mozart’s music also emerged as the winner in this test.

How it is possible that (classical) music improves cognitive performance is not entirely clear to the researchers. They speculate that listening to music helps organize the firing of nerve cells in the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for the higher functions. According to this theory, music acts as a type of exercise that warms selected brain cells, allowing them to process information more efficiently.

DOES MUSIC REDUCE STRESS?

Music has been made and listened to since time immemorial. It allows us to express our feelings and communicate with others. Music can not only express our feelings, it can even change us. British playwright William Congreve said in 1697 that “music has the charms to soothe a savage chest.” Is calming down people with stress therefore one of the benefits of listening to music?

A New York study examined how music affects surgical patients. This study involved 40 people with cataracts with an average age of 74 years. Half of this group received normal care, without listening to any music. The other half also received this care, but listened to music of their own choice before, during and immediately after the operation.

Before the surgery, the subjects in both groups had similar blood pressure. One week before surgery, the average was 129/82 millimeter of mercury (mm Hg). This rose to 159/92 in both groups just before the operation. The average therefore rose by 17 beats per minute. The patients in the first group, without music, remained hypertensive during the operation, while the pressure of those listening to music decreased rapidly. The latter group reported that they felt calmer and better during the operation.

MUSIC AS ANTIDEPRESSANT?

It is now clear that music has a positive influence on our body. In some cases, it even helps improve the mood of people with depressive disorders. Various studies have also been conducted into this in recent years. Four studies, conducted between 1994 and 1999, all come to the same conclusion: music therapy reduces the symptoms of depression. Later, in 2002, this subject was again researched. A group of 60 adults with chronic pain proved that music could reduce pain, depression and disabilities. These are all very positive results, but unfortunately this does not mean that music will take the place of antidepressants.

INCENTIVE FOR MORE EXERCISE

Anyone who has ever been to a gym will know that athletes love to listen to music during their workout. Many of them swear by their music and even believe it enhances their performance. A lot of research has also been done on this. Unfortunately with mixed results.

A British study investigated whether rock, dance, inspirational music and no music influence the performance of runners. Many of the athletes were convinced that music was useful in their endeavors, but this turned out not to be the case. However, another study from the UK shows that music does affect endurance on a treadmill. This conclusion has been partly confirmed in an Israeli study. This showed that music increased the anaerobic peak power on a bicycle ergometer, but that this was only short-lived. This does not work for relaxing music either. Do you want your performance to be improved during a workout? Then especially listen to stimulating music.

THE QUALITY OF SOUND

It is now clear that music has positive effects on our health. Knowing this, we wonder whether the quality of sound amplifies the positive effects. This has been researched in a large, international study. This experiment was set up with more than 3000 people from different European countries. “Our goal was to learn more about the impact of sound quality on positive emotions. And it worked.” Says Daniel Müllensiefen, music psychologist at Goldsmiths College. Some notable benefits of listening to music have emerged from this research:

  • By listening to music with good quality, people appreciate music more. Up to 20% more. Also, 8% of the people feel more emotions than those who listen to poor quality music. Good sound makes music a lot more intense. It evokes deeper emotions, such as a sense of wonder, tenderness, strength, nostalgia, joy, peace and sadness.
  • People who value sound quality turn out to be a lot happier. With up to 9 points difference on a scale from 0 to 100. These people also value music and technology more. They are also more active with music and they listen longer per day.
  • Listening to music connects people. 76% of the respondents immediately feel a click with someone who likes the same music. No less than 70% say that a good taste in music makes someone more attractive and 59% of them think that the right music makes sex much better and the experience in bed more adventurous.
  • Listening to music improves mood and reduces stress. More than two thirds of the people surveyed say that music improves their mood. An even larger group, 74%, feel less stressed when listening to their favorite song.
  • By listening to music, people achieve their health goals faster. For 59% of the participants, music is the perfect motivation to start a workout. 75% of the participants indicate that music has a greater impact on their sports performance than taking dietary supplements. And a whopping 81% of people say that music helps you achieve fitness goals.

ENJOY QUALITY MUSIC

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