5 Holistic Health Benefits of Listening to Music
By Robyn Albertyn
reviewed by mounir hamed
Music is timeless. It’s a universal language that can bridge a connection with a stranger of a foreign tongue. It’s no surprise why we blast our ears, add songs to our playlists, and watch live performances to the brink of tears. Music not only entertains us, but it also moves us to expression and is a source of inspiration. More than that, it’s an effortless way to boost your wellbeing.
What is behind the power of music?
Have you ever heard of music therapy? Music Therapy degree programs have been around since 1944, but researchers discovered their powerful effects as far back as Aristotle’s writings. Music therapy gained its prevalence in the First and Second World War when musicians would visit veterans in hospitals who were suffering from emotional and physical trauma. Doctors and nurses noticed their patients’ positive response to music, and soon a profession developed where musicians were hired to play for the veterans. Today, we identify musical therapists as trained musicians and clinical therapists who can evaluate a wide range of capabilities via musical responses. Through their assessments, they can determine their patients’ social functions, cognitive proficiency, communication skills, emotional wellbeing, and physical health. While you may benefit from having a music therapy session with a trained professional, you don’t have to go too far to experience the powerful benefits of music.
Let’s find out how you can benefit from listening to music and taking part in making music. Are you ready?
- Music improves your social health
Music has the potential to enhance social connections. If you’ve ever been part of a band, an orchestra, or even a choir, then you’ll have experienced a unique bond with that social group. Research suggests that when we make music together, whether that’s singing or playing an instrument, it promotes synchronicity with the people you’ve sung or played music with. The Global Council on Brain Health’s research found that making music together “activates brain circuits that affect empathy, trust and cooperation. And it affirms a sense of belonging and place within a culture”.
Music is a powerful social glue between individuals that bonds us in ways that go beyond surface-level chit-chat. So next time you’re looking for ways to bond with your partner, friends, or co-workers, turn up your music and sing a song together. If you’re looking for a boost in your social health, an important dimension linked to your holistic wellbeing, you may benefit from joining a singing group, jamming with friends, or even starting a band.
- Music improves cognitive performance
The tasks we do daily are demanding of our optimum mental performance. It’s difficult to block out all the noise from distracting work environments to buzzing notifications. A growing body of research has discovered a strong correlation between background music and cognitive performance.
One study showed that listening to certain music while doing a task may enhance cognitive performance temporarily because of changes in arousal and mood. Another study done on children conveyed that cognitive performance only enhanced when their participants thoroughly enjoyed the music.
So what can you do to give your brain a boost? Opt for music without lyrics, the music you know you’ll enjoy, and music that has a positive effect on your mood. Music with lyrics might impair your ability to concentrate on your task, which, of course, influences your performance. So, plug in your headphones and find tunes that elevate your mood and enhance your ability to focus.
- Music boosts your motivation
We’ve all had those days when we don’t feel amped up to do our workout routines. Dragging ourselves to the gym or a home workout can feel like a chore when we’re not motivated. It’s not uncommon to see people at the gym with earbuds in their ears, but how does this sustain our motivational levels?
In one controlled study, researchers gave 12 healthy males music 6 different tempos to listen to while they cycled. The participants performed 3 times, and unbeknown to them, the music tempo changed every time they performed. The results showed that the cyclists exerted more by pedaling faster, increasing their mileage and cadence when they listened to faster tempo music, as opposed to slower tempo music. Researchers also discovered that cyclists not only worked harder when listening to fast-tempo music, they also enjoyed the music.
So next time you’re in a bit of a slump and feel unmotivated to workout, pump up the jam! Add faster tempo tracks to your playlist that will inspire you to push harder in your workouts. You’ll not only enjoy the release of those feel-good chemicals called endorphins when you listen to music, but you’ll also feel the benefits of your workout once it’s over.
- Music can help to manage stress
No one is free of stress, which is why stress management is something we can all learn to improve on. Managing our stress is imperative for our wellbeing and while there are many ways to combat stress, through exercise or meditation, music is an inexpensive way to cope with daily stress. According to a study, slower tempo music triggers a release of oxytocin (small nervous system proteins that influence social recognition, sexual behavior, maternal care, and bonding) which reduces levels of stress.
The Global Council of brain health’s report found that “[m]usic improves people’s moods and lowers stress, which affects activity of the autonomic nervous system, which then ramps up the immune function”. Listening to instrumental, Celtic, nature sounds, and classical music are just a few examples of relaxing music you can add to your playlist. What’s more, music is used to complement some meditation techniques as well. So next time you’re feeling wound up, find a slow tempo tune that is relaxing — your body and mind will thank you for it.
Music can elevate your mood and support your mental health
It’s not far-reaching to suggest that the music we listen to can alter our mood. Music supports our mental health and shows great potential for managing depression, stress, and anxiety. A review conducted by NBCB carried out over many years showed that music therapy could help treat depression. The results conveyed after 26 studies that participants over time had reduced symptoms of depression through musical interventions.
However, another study indicated that sad music may exacerbate symptoms of depression. Interestingly, the results were similar for participants who had ruminative coping mechanisms and non-ruminative alike. This conveys the potential music has on our emotions depending on the song or musical piece we’re listening to.
The National Center for Biotechnology has conducted groundbreaking research on how music can improve the mental wellbeing of people who suffer from dementia. The review showed how, through musical therapy interventions, people with dementia had reduced levels of anxiety and depression.
While musical therapy shows more benefits to treat depression, we can all still experience the perks of an enhanced mood by merely putting on a cheerful song that lifts our spirits. Are you feeling a little low today? That’s okay! Why not change up the music to something that evokes feelings of happiness?
Researchers continue to fill in the gaps to find substantial evidence of the many benefits of music, however, musicians, singers, and avid listeners of music have long experienced the soul-stirring and deep satisfaction that music can bring to our wellbeing. This expression of art and its benefits will certainly remain timeless.
I’m a multi-passionate content writer from South Africa. Storytelling has always captivated me. I’m intrigued by how storytelling has been ubiquitous throughout history and how it’s evolved from drawings on rocks, to stories we now read on blogs, watch on Netflix, and engage with on social media. Storytelling carries great potential for collective transformation and global awareness. With this in mind, I’m continuously adapting my style of writing, using my background in English Literature, and immersing what I’ve learned in copywriting to create content that is engaging, educational, and empathetic. I’m an advocate for wellness for all, especially for the marginalised in society. I want to use writing as a platform to bring about change and healing for our global society. A vision of a healed, inclusive, and compassionate humanity drives and fuels my passion.
Experienced health researcher and pharmacist with a demonstrated history of working in community and manufacturing fields. I worked in research and development, planning and production for different pharmaceutical companies. I have diplomatic experience too as I worked as an honorary consul, where I met various officials and ambassadors, and was able to strengthen relations with different countries. I am pursuing a Master’s degree in International Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). I am interested in global and digital health, and believe that everyone should have the right to live a healthy and happy life.
Cherry, K. (2019, December 10). 10 Surprising Psychological Benefits Of Music. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/surprising-psychological-benefits-of-music-4126866
Dunbar, R. I. M., Kaskatis, K., MacDonald, I., & Barra, V. (2012). Performance of Music Elevates Pain Threshold and Positive Affect: Implications for the Evolutionary Function of Music. Evol Psychol, 10(4), 147470491201000. https://doi.org/10.1177/147470491201000403
FAQ’s | Frequently Asked Questions | American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://www.musictherapy.org/faq/#42
Garrido, S., & Schubert, E. (2015). Moody melodies: Do they cheer us up? A study of the effect of sad music on mood. Psychology of Music, 43(2), 244–261. https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735613501938
Heshmat, S. (2019, August 25). Music, Emotion, And Well-Being. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201908/music-emotion-and-well-being
Leubner, D., & Hinterberger, T. (2017). Reviewing the Effectiveness of Music Interventions in Treating Depression. Front. Psychol., 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01109
McCaffrey, T., Carr, C., Solli, H. P., & Hense, C. (2018). Music Therapy and Recovery in Mental Health: Seeking a Way Forward. Voices, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.15845/voices.v18i1.918
Music on Our Minds: The Rich Potential of Music to Promote Brain Health and Mental Well-Being (p. 34). (n.d.). Global Council on Brain Health. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/health/brain_health/2020/06/gcbh-music-report-english.doi.10.26419-2Fpia.00103.001.pdf
Ooishi, Y., Mukai, H., Watanabe, K., Kawato, S., & Kashino, M. (2017). Increase in salivary oxytocin and decrease in salivary cortisol after listening to relaxing slow-tempo and exciting fast-tempo music. PLoS ONE, 12(12), e0189075. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0189075
Oxytocin – An Overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/oxytocin
Releasing Stress Through The Power Of Music | Counseling Services. (n.d.). University Of Nevada, Reno. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://www.unr.edu/counseling/virtual-relaxation-room/releasing-stress-through-the-power-of-music
Schäfer, T., Sedlmeier, P., Städtler, C., & Huron, D. (2013). The psychological functions of music listening. Front. Psychol., 4. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00511
SCHELLENBERG, E. G. (2005). Music Listening and Cognitive Abilities in 10- and 11-Year-Olds: The Blur Effect. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1060(1), 202–209. https://doi.org/10.1196/annals.1360.013
Stanborough, R. J. (2020, April 1). Benefits Of Music On Body, Mind, Relationships & More. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-music#mood-boost
Stewart, J., Garrido, S., Hense, C., & McFerran, K. (2019a). Music Use for Mood Regulation: Self-Awareness and Conscious Listening Choices in Young People With Tendencies to Depression. Front. Psychol., 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01199
Vink, A., & Hanser, S. (2018). Music-Based Therapeutic Interventions for People with Dementia: A Mini-Review. Medicines, 5(4), 109. https://doi.org/10.3390/medicines5040109
Waterhouse, J., Hudson, P., & Edwards, B. (2010). Effects of music tempo upon submaximal cycling performance. 20(4), 662–669. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.00948.x