How listening to tunes helps you find mind-body harmony.
Brian T. Horowitz 1 / 11
10 Ways Music Can Boost Your Well-Being
For decades, experts have considered music a factor in improving one’s health. An often-documented example is the study by French researcher Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis involving the “Mozart effect,” in which the composer’s "Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major K. 448" was found to improve the brain’s functioning.
Although the Mozart effect has been disputed by experts, “music is very primal to all of our experience,” notes Julie Jaffee Nagel, Ph.D., author of the book Melodies of the Mind.
“You don’t have to be a professional musician to feel the power of music,” she says.
Music can make people feel centered and reduce anxiety and depression, says Shara Sand, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at LaGuardia Community College, in Long Island City, N.Y.
“I believe that music is healing because there’s something about the vibrational properties that restore a certain kind of balance,” says Sand. Here we show you 10 ways that music can boost your well-being.
1) Make HIIT workouts more bearable
A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that listening to music during intense yet unpleasant exercise such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) makes the workout more enjoyable and pushes you to work out harder. When participants listened to music while cycling they increased their power output more than participants who biked in silence.
“It’s possible to shift or change one’s mood based on the music one listens to,” says Sand.
Don’t make too dramatic a shift in tempo from the mood you’re in, she advises. “If you’re really hyped up and want to relax, you can’t put on something twice as slow as you are because it won’t feel good,” notes Sand.
Altering a mood using music is like tapering off drugs, she says.
But when you’re down, listening to a song called “Happy” by Pharrell Williams or the Rolling Stones should flip the switch to put you in a better state of mind. When you change your mood, the body goes through a process called entrainment, which involves matching the rhythm of music to our internal rhythm, or heartbeat.
Songs can help you recall certain people, places and special times in your life. “Music can really stimulate memories,” says Sand. “It allows you to connect and remember things, and all memories are not bad.”
Music can also help you remember a lost loved one if you listen to music the person enjoyed listening to, says Sand.
Light music can be a way to help you fall asleep if you’re suffering from insomnia. Music proved to be an effective method for helping adults to catch some zzz's, according to a study published in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice. For going to sleep, you’ll want to choose ballads, light piano tunes or classical music, says Sand.
“Listening to and playing music can lower amounts of the cortisol stress hormone,” notes Nagel. Music therapy can help treat depression, agitation and anxiety, according to a report published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry. Create playlists that help you work off stress, whether at the gym, on the train or even at work.
We often block out troubling thoughts or situations we’d rather not deal with.
“Music can help you work through some problems, issues or things you’re thinking about just by listening to it,” says Nagel. “People avoid processing emotions,” she says. “When you do process it, a huge weight is taken off.”
After dealing with a troublesome issue by listening to music, “people feel tremendous relief, and that frees up a whole other level of energy,” says Nagel.
Long-term music training can also improve how the nervous system integrates all senses, especially hearing and touch, according to research by Julie Roy at the University of Montreal, presented in November 2013.
People with long-term musical training were better able to separate information gained from hearing and touch, the study finds.
Playing a musical instrument can improve multisensory processing, according to the study.
For musicians — professional or recreational — playing music helps brain functioning, studies show. It can improve “selective attention,” reveals a study by Yunxin Wang, from the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning at Beijing Normal University in China. Wang presented the findings in San Diego at the Neuroscience 2013 conference in November 2013.
A 2007 study by the Stanford University School of Medicine also found that music can improve attention span as well as memory.