Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, I love turning up the music as I enjoy the sight of the ocean glistening in the sun and the waves crashing. Sometimes I like listening to rock and roll while singing along, other times I enjoy the dramatic sounds of Beethoven while reflecting on life. Whichever I choose, I find it to be one of the most exhilarating and uplifting things to do, and recently I have learned why it feels so good.
Apparently, getting into the grove of your favorite music is actually good for you, too. And although it has long been recognized that listening to music lifts your spirits, it has also been proven to cause actual physiological changes that have many healthy effects on the body.
Have you ever wondered why you get chills listening to a particular piece of music? That sensation is due to a spike of dopamine in your brain, the neurotransmitter that is associated with exercise, sex, eating and taking drugs. The pleasure effects of dopamine on the body can be addictive and that is why we are attracted to certain kinds of music, craving to listen over and over again. Furthermore, listening with a friend can produce prolactin, a hormone that enhances bonding between people. Singing or dancing with a friend can cause the release of oxytocin, which stimulates feelings of trust. This pleasure response is an effective aid in pain relief, comfort during childbirth and relaxation for pre- and post-op patients.
Studies have also found other hormonal changes in the body, changes that have significant health effects. Listening to slow tempo has shown to stimulate the production of serotonin in the brain, which is a sleep-inducing hormone and acts as an antidepressant causing relaxation effects. Concurrently, Cortisol, a hormone elevated in the body that causes stress, anxiety and depression, has been found to be lower in clinical study patients while listening to music. Listening to music a mere half an hour in the morning and evening can be effective in lowering our heart rate, helping in prevent and even reverse hypertension. Other positive effects of these hormonal changes are associated with the relaxation of the blood vessels, reducing the incident of heart disease and stroke.
The act of listening to music is one of the few activities proven to stimulate the entire brain. According to the book The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit by Don G. Campbell, listening to different forms of music can influence certain brain waves that can be manipulated to stimulate sections of the brain which help improve many cognitive abilities. Music has been proven to help memory loss, rehabilitate stroke victims, benefit Alzheimer’s patients, and sharpen focus in ADD children. Playing musical instruments, being exposed to music as young as in the womb, children tend to have higher IQs, too. The focusing power of music is used by athletes to enhance performance, and lengthen workout duration. It is used as an aid in meditation, as well.
Throughout history, in all cultures, music has been involved in spiritual rituals to express thanks, praise and redemption. Music, the “universal language”, has a positive effect on us all and requires no prescription. With technology today you can tap into your favorite tunes just about anywhere. So turn it up, sing, dance, and be healthy!
“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”-Billy Joel