American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” No matter where you go in the world, music is there. It may vary in tone, rhythm, pacing, and melody, but no matter the style, it pulls people together in celebration, dance, ceremony, and community.
But, music is not only a shared language — it’s also a tool you can use to improve your mood, increase focus, reduce stress and enjoy a healthier, happier life.
1. Turn the Tunes on at Work
You may have noticed that music makes the workday go a little easier and, maybe, a little faster too. Music can help you complete your tasks more quickly and efficiently.
In one study, researchers found that when surgeons listened to music, it helped decrease their wound closure time by 8 percent in general, and by 10 percent in more senior, experienced doctors. Music also improved the quality of the closure. The surgeons noted that the music helped reduce stress and operative time too.
In an earlier study on medical personnel, results showed that music helped them relax and improved thinking power.
It’s not just surgeons who benefit, however. Other research has found that music at work can significantly increase focus and attention by helping employees block out unwanted distractions like from your cubicle mate talking on the phone or the trio jabbering around the water cooler. It provides a sort of pleasurable “white noise” that can allow you to get your work done.
2. When You’re Stressed, Turn on the Relaxing Music
Music is one of the best tools available when it comes to helping you relax. No matter what life throws your way, even if it’s work-, health-, family- or finance-related, music can help you calm down, regroup and find a way to solve your problems.
It works so well because it has a direct effect on the human stress response. In one study, researchers gave 60 healthy female volunteers a standard stress test after having them go through one of the following three conditions:
- Listen to relaxing music
- Listen to the sound of rippling water
- Rest without listening to anything
The scientists then measured levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone, in the saliva and heart rate and assessed other signs of stress and anxiety. Results showed that after the stress test, those who had listened to the relaxing music recovered faster than those in the other two groups.
“Listening to music prior to a standardized stressor predominantly affected the autonomic nervous system (in terms of a faster recovery),” the researchers wrote, “and, to a lesser degree, the endocrine and psychological stress response.”
When researchers examined university students during examination week, they found that listening to music helped the students reduce stress, lowered cortisol levels and eased anxiety.
3. Listen to Music Daily as Part of Your Pain-relief Program
If you have fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis or other forms of chronic pain, a daily dose of music could help you find some relief. That’s because the right kind of music can act on the brain in such a way as to reduce the perception of pain.
Researchers examined the effects of music on 30 patients with fibromyalgia and found that listening to music helped them feel more in control of their pain, thus helping them cope with it better. Those who listened to it more often experienced a pain-reducing effect.
Other studies have shown even more impressive results. In 2013, researchers stated that “there is considerable evidence that music can decrease pain levels,” both because the music releases endorphins that help mask pain and because it helps distract patients away from their perceptions of pain. They also noted that those who listen to music more frequently had a higher quality of life.
4. If You Need to Be Creative, Get Music Involved
Maybe you need to help your son come up with an idea for the science fair, or your boss just gave your team an hour to come up with a creative solution to a recent problem. You want your brain to be creative, but you’re not feeling innovative today. The solution? Turn on some upbeat, happy music.
Scientists tested four different types of music, as opposed to silence, in facilitating creative thought. Results showed that those participants who listened to happy music like classical music that was considered energetic and positive, such as Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” performed the best on creativity tests and certainly did better than those who listened only to silence. They were able to come up with more novel ideas and multiple solutions to a problem than the other groups.
5. Take Your Music with You on Your Morning Jog
If you want to get more out of your exercise workout, take upbeat music along with you. It will not only help you enjoy your workout more, but it may also make you work harder, improving your results.
Researchers from Texas Tech University found that when participants listened to music, they were able to exercise for nearly a minute longer than those not listening to music. That was no easy feat, considering the type of exercise they were doing. They were on treadmills, and the inclines and speeds increased every three minutes, making the test gradually more difficult. After six minutes, the participants were doing the equivalent of running up a mountain, so that extra minute was significant.
“Our findings reinforce the idea that upbeat music has a synergistic effect in terms of making you want to exercise longer and stick with a daily exercise routine,” said lead author Dr. Waseem Shami, M.D.
In another study, researchers had 24 people walk 400 meters at a pace of their choosing, and report how they felt after each walk. Each person participated in three different walks:
- Control walk — walk normally
- Walk while listening to a podcast
- Walk while listening to music
The researchers also used technology to measure the brain’s activity during the walks. Results showed that music increased beta waves in the brain, leading to more positive thoughts. Participants also reported feeling more positive while listening to music than while listening to the podcast or silence.
If you want to get stronger faster, music may also help you do that. Researchers analyzed 20 men during resistance training — specifically while doing a bench press and squat jump. They had them do it once while it was quiet, and once again with music that the athletes had chosen themselves.
Results showed that takeoff velocity, the rate of velocity development and rate of force development all increased when the athletes listened to music. The participants had more strength and power when listening to their favorite tunes. They also reported a better mood during the workout.
6. If You Can’t Sleep, Try Some Relaxing Music
Sleep is extremely important to your health, but if you’re struggling to fall asleep at night, you may be tempted to use sleeping pills. That might be a bad idea as their use has been linked to health risks like cancer and premature death. Instead, try turning on some soft, relaxing music.
Researchers from the Center for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University reviewed six studies on music and sleep disorders involving a total of 314 participants. They found that overall, music improved the quality of sleep without the side effects of pills and other methods.
Other studies have found similar results, with music found to be an effective relaxation technique before bed as well as a tool to help increase sleep duration and quality. Music can also help you fall asleep faster and experience less daytime sleepiness the next day. More importantly, some studies have shown that listening to music helped people experience longer periods of deep REM sleep, which is most important for physical and emotional well-being.
What music should you use? The best choices are not arousing or exciting, but have a slow and stable rhythm with a tempo of 60 to 80 beats per minute with relaxing melodies and low-frequency tones. Set a timer for about 15 to 45 minutes, so that the music turns off automatically after you fall asleep.
7. Use Music to Keep Your Heart Healthy
You know that you need to exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and keep your stress levels under control if you want your heart to be healthy. But, did you know that listening to music can help too?
There are all the indirect benefits like how because music helps you exercise longer, eases stress and boosts your mood that your cardiovascular system benefits from it too. However, music can also have a direct effect on your heart activity, blood vessels, and blood pressure.
Harvard Health notes that music may improve blood vessel function by relaxing the arteries and help heart rate and blood pressure levels recover more quickly after exertion. It has even been found to help people recover faster after heart surgery.
In one review of several studies, scientists discovered that music improved the health of patients living with heart disease, helping to lower blood pressure. In those who suffered from a stroke, music helped them better recover their ability to speak and move.
If you’re already taking high blood pressure medications, consider listening to music more often. In a recent 2018 study, scientists found that music improved how well the drugs worked and also helped relax the heart rate, reducing the risk of deteriorating cardiac function.
“We found that the effect of antihypertension medication on heart rate was enhanced by listening to music,” said lead author Vitor Engracia Valenti.
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