Wellness Wednesday: Music and Health

Yesterday Apple debuted its all encompassing music service. With a subscription, one can listen to the entire contents of the iTunes music store 24/7/365. There are infinite permutations and possibilities for creating playlists and stations. It is the music service to end all music services. 

The association of Apple Computer with music has been long and fundamental. Much of their product inventory has been about consuming and even creating music, and other forms of art such as as film. There is a belief within Apple and indeed, within many decades of California Bay area culture that music is essential to the good life. I believe modern science is beginning to substantiate that belief. 

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Since I have been totally immersing myself in music since the services inception 18 hours ago, I decided to learn more about what is happening to me when I listen to music. What follows is a characteristically nerdy report on the relationship between music and health. It's amazing and stirs hope. 

A rather casual Google search promptly unearthed a plethora of research and commercial articles on the subject. I will give you the "digest" form and, of course, the references. The oldest work I evaluated was from 2009. Study designs varied, but many were randomized and controlled. Many of the studies were done in the setting of assessing benefit to peri-operative or hospitalized patients. 




In short, exposure to "pleasant" music, self chosen or otherwise, was associated with the following: 

  • decreased preop anxiety,
  • decreased post op cortisol levels, blood pressure, heart rate, pain level, thus decreased requirements for post op sedation and pain medications 
  • decreased pain and depression in fibromyalgia patients 
  • decreased heart rate and pain in hospitalized pediatric patients 
  • improvements in both branches of the immune system, cellular and humoral, in the elderly 
  • improvements in athletic performance 
  • improved sleep 
  • improved cognitive function 



How does our body and mind produce all these responses through music? The precise science is not entirely worked out. However, studies using measurements of hormones and neurotransmitters by blood tests and targeted neuroimaging reveal the involvement of the dopamine, serotonin, and adrenal pituitary axis systems, among others. 

The cardinal work on this matter seems to be an article produced by one of my old college housemates, Dan Levitan, and his colleague Mona Lisa Chanda. (See reference below.) They evaluate and ultimately support the claims that music produces its effects through the bodies systems for reward, motivation, pleasure stress, arousal, immunity and social affiliation. And these responses, of course, work through various brain centers which produce the aforementioned hormones and neurotransmitters. 

So how you feel on music is very very real. So I suggest you indulge yourself. Find your music and bring it into your life. Better yet, make your music. And if you have small children, do everything you can to get them into music education as early as possible. It helps develop the brain and enhances the power of all the good things music can do for us.