The soundtrack to our life. It says a lot about us, and to many is a critical source of pleasure, relaxation, motivation, religious devotion, romance and plenty besides, depending on what we need from it at any given moment. Music can cover it all. And whether we are tone deaf and dimly aware of background ‘noise’, seriously appreciate listening to some of the greats or enjoy playing ourselves as a hobby or career, most of us have strong opinions about what constitutes ‘good’ music, and those people who happen to agree with us can easily and rapidly become friends through the bonding that music can bring.
What about music and health? Could it be that what we listen to can actually change our long-term health? The evidence suggests that it just might, which is welcome news in our heavily medication dependent world; an intervention that comes with no risk, has no adverse side effects and is freely available to all can surely be only a good thing.
Music has been shown to benefit people with one of our biggest killers, coronary heart disease, mainly by reducing anxiety. Anxiety is a significant problem in people with heart disease; knowing that you have a problem with your heart is likely to make you anxious, and in turn that heightened state of anxiety increases your risk of further damage to the heart or even dying from your condition. Listening to music, particularly if you get to choose what to listen to, can also reduce the blood pressure and heart rate. It isn’t clear just how much difference the effects on blood pressure and heart rate makes in reality, but the effects of music on anxiety levels are clear.
Evidence suggests that cancer patients should be tuning in; listening to music regularly may have less anxiety, pain and fatigue, and an improved quality of life. People with dementia may also benefit from regular music based therapeutic interventions. They are likely to have fewer depressive symptoms and behavioural problems, and better emotional wellbeing and quality of life following music therapy.
Listening to music in the pre-operative period can reduce anxiety which is important in terms of anaesthesia. Apart from increased blood pressure and heart rate, anxiety can result in a ‘fight or flight’ response whereby blood gets diverted to skeletal muscles and consequently a higher dose of anaesthetic can be required; staying calm can essentially reduce the dose of anaesthetic given. Similarly, it can reduce anxiety in patients on ITU, and possibly also improve their sleep quality and therefore aid their recovery.
Good news for the millions of us with insomnia too – it seems that listening to our favourite tunes is an effective way of gently sending us off to the land of nod, with none of the addiction or hangover effects seen with the pharmacological alternatives. Adequate sleep is fundamentally important to long-term health so anything healthful that improves it is most welcome. Music therapy also helps children with autism to concentrate and learn better, improves depression and may improve wellbeing in those with schizophrenia.
So whatever sounds make your heart sing, listen to them regularly. I listen to music constantly when I’m doing work that doesn’t involve direct patient contact, including right now, and my colleagues frequently remark that it is a pleasure to enter my consulting room because of the lovely calming ambience – I listen to chilled out music in work to help keep my own heart rate and blood pressure where they need to be, very different from the soundtrack to my average 5k run, for example. Listening to music may not just make your heart sing, it may actually keep it beating longer. Enjoy…….