Music and Heart Health
By Catherine Kong
Every 36 seconds, one person in the United States dies from a cardiovascular disease. In fact, heart disease, ranging from heart attacks to abnormal heart rhythms, is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Various measures have been taken to prevent the development of these deadly conditions, including
healthy diets and regular exercise, but what about music? People have assumed that music has little physical impact on the human body, but the latest research has proven otherwise.
In recent years, numerous institutes have conducted studies involving music and heart health in an attempt to find prevention and treatment methods for heart conditions.
At Massachusetts General Hospital, a team of nurses separated patients into two groups. The experimental group listened to music in bed for 30 minutes, while the control group rested without music for the same amount of time. The results showed that those who had listened to music had lower blood pressure, slower heart rates, and less distress than the control group. At the Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, researchers studied patients who had recently undergone cardiac surgery. Similar to the first study, one group rested while listening to music, whereas the other rested in a quiet environment. Those who had listened to music reported having less anxiety and less pain, exhibiting music’s benefits as a recovery tool. Other studies at Hong Kong and the University of Maryland Medical Center likewise found that music helped to increase blood flow and lower blood pressure over both short and long spans of time.
As seen in these studies, listening to music has a plethora of benefits for the heart, whether someone has or does not have a heart condition.
Now, more than ever with the COVID pandemic, stress and anxiety have seen an uprise; concerns about contracting the virus have only exacerbated stress induced by school, work, and mid-life crises. How is too much stress dangerous? When distressed, the body produces hormones that narrow blood vessels and cause the heart to pump blood faster, increasing blood pressure. Although they are temporary, frequent spikes in blood pressure can still damage blood vessels, the heart, and kidneys, and put people at risk for cardiovascular disease. However, music can help to relieve some of this harmful stress by connecting with the nervous and limbic system, which control emotions. It switches the stress response off, halting the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol from the brain. In such a manner, music’s minimizing effect on stress makes it a preventative measure for any heart conditions caused by high blood pressure.
Lowering blood pressure is only one of music’s several benefits. Music is processed in the brainstem, the same site that controls the rate of heartbeat and respiration. Due to this, relaxing music also can help heart rate and blood pressure levels to return to baseline quicker after physical exertion and improve the recovery process after heart procedures.
It is important to note that music cannot be used to cure nor treat heart diseases, and that its efficacy in improving heart health varies from person to person. However, that does not mean that the benefits it presents are not significant. In order to maximize its benefits, you should choose music you like to listen to- music that will help you to relax and unwind. Especially in combination with other relaxation methods such as meditation, music can have a multitude of advantages for heart health.
Currently, scientists are researching whether specific sounds or tempos affect the heart differently, regardless of subjective musical preferences. For instance, perhaps a slower tempo reduces blood pressure for all listeners, even those who prefer faster-paced music. A music genre that could be applied universally would make music therapy more accessible for all. With its affordability, it is very possible that music may become a common tool in improving cardiovascular health in the near future, and that getting “pumped up” to music will gain both a figurative and literal definition.