Music as Medicine?
January 17, 2022
If there’s one thing that a Millikin student can’t live without, it’s their favorite pair of headphones. Whether it’s walking across campus, working out at the DISC, or studying at the Commons, you can almost always find students with their headphones in around campus.
College students may listen to music to study, to stay motivated during a workout, or to dodge a conversation with someone they’d rather avoid, but did you know that listening to music can actually improve your health? Let me tell you about the relationships between music and various health-related topics including stress reduction, exercise tolerance, immunity, anxiety, and depression.
Although many of us have probably experienced subjective feelings of decreased stress while listening to music, there is actually a scientific reason behind this! Studies show that listening to relaxing music (slow tempo, low pitch, and no lyrics) results in a more rapid reduction of cortisol levels, our main stress hormone, after everyday stressors, like work and school.
Slow, relaxing music also decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate, which allows us to decompress after a long day of class. Not only does listening to relaxing music help our body calm down after a long day, studies show that it also reduces mental fatigue and motor deterioration after an extended cognitive-motor task.
Sometimes we may not be in the mood for slow, lyric-less music though. No problem! Listening to upbeat, stimulating music increases heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, and muscle tension. In general, these aren’t necessarily factors that lead to improved health. However, listening to stimulating music during exercise significantly increases tolerance for longer duration of exercise in men and women ages 19-25.
The ability to achieve longer duration of exercise by delaying fatigue while listening to music results in greater endurance, strength, and productivity.
By working out to the beat of the music, exercise is more efficient and uses less oxygen to reach peak performance. It’s a well-known fact that exercise benefits heart health, controls weight, and builds muscle, so next time you’re at the gym, pop in some headphones and pump up the jams.
In addition to its effects on stress and cardiovascular health, music can also improve our infection-fighting ability. This is especially relevant right now because COVID-19 is very prevalent in our community once again.
We’ve all pulled an all-nighter at one time or another, staying up all night to cram for that big exam, and then come down with a terrible cold a few days later. Stress is known to lead to a weakened immune system, allowing viruses or bacteria into our systems and increasing inflammation.
Multiple studies have investigated the effect of listening to relaxing music on salivary immunoglobulin A (s-IgA), which is the first-line antibody protecting our bodies against viral and bacterial infections. These studies have found that listening to calming music is associated with increased s-IgA levels, which could help protect you against the COVID-19 virus.
Other studies have found that group activities, such as group drumming and group singing, result in an even greater increase in immune function. Group singing results in a greater increase in salivary IgA while group drumming increases our number of immune cells, including total number of lymphocytes, T cells, and CD4+ T cells, among others.
Getting a group together for a drum circle sesh is a great break in your daily routine and may improve immune function at the same time – just don’t forget to mask-up!
College can be a hard transition for many students, both mentally and emotionally, which can lead to anxiety and depression. Listening to music alters the neurochemistry of the brain, causing the release of various neuropeptides and hormones, many of which are those involved in anxiety and depression.
Music is associated with increased levels of feel-good hormones, such as dopamine and endorphins. In addition to the stress-reducing effects of music already discussed, these chemical changes boost mood and result in decreased anxiety and depression and increased motivation.
Regardless of the reason why students listen to music, it’s clear that music can improve health, especially that of college students. Listening to calming music is beneficial to manage stress and fight illness.
Upbeat music improves exercise tolerance and efficiency which leads to better cardiovascular and muscular health. When it comes to the college blues, listen to your music of choice, but avoid sad songs! And next time someone tells you to take those darn headphones out, tell them you’re just looking out for your own health!
Chanda, M.L., & Levitin, D.J. (2013). The neurochemistry of music. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17(4), 179-193. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2013.02.007
Guo, W., Ren, J., Wang, B., & Zhu, Q. (2015). Effects of relaxing music on mental fatigue induced by a continuous performance task: Behavioral and ERPs evidence. PLoS ONE, 10(8), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0136446
Thakare, A.E., Mehrotra, R., & Singh, A. (2017). Effect of music tempo on exercise performance and heart rate among young adults. International Journal of Physiology, Pathophysiology, and Pharmacology, 9(2), 35–39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5435671/#b2