Cue the music doctor, please.
Sure, music may help you get pumped up for the gym or into a better frame of mind following a breakup, but it does so much more than that. In fact, few of us truly appreciate just how profound an effect music can have on how we feel, think and even act. Intentionally engaging with music can lift us up, provide comfort, boost morale and even help us cope with physical and psychological trauma.
Science is starting to gain a bigger picture of all the incredible benefits music offers to improve our physical and mental health. Researchers are now looking into the use of music as part of targeted treatments for various mental health issues, from brain disorders to depression.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the more established benefits of music and how it can positively impact health.
Music activates different areas of the brain that process reward, pleasure, emotion and memory. This is why melody, harmony and rhythm can dramatically stimulate our senses and alter our breathing, heart rate and other bodily functions.
Some of the most often observed benefits of listening to music include:
The least surprising of the cognitive benefits of music is its mood-boosting effects. However, what may come as a surprise is that sad music (slow tempo, minor chords, heartrending lyrics) often does this far better than happy music. That’s why we tend to listen to sad music when we are sad.
Research suggests that playing music in the background while doing certain thinking activities, can enhance performance. There are many nuances to consider in how musical characteristics affect performance based on the type of task at hand (i.e. a cognitively demanding task versus a physical task). However, at a high level, tempo seems to play a key role here, with faster tempos increasing reaction time and slow music improving memory.
Music can also have a significant impact on both sleep amount and quality. It can decrease the amount of time needed to fall asleep and improve sleep efficiency, too. This means less time tossing and turning in bed and more time actually sleeping. The effect is also cumulative. Fexample, individuals who incorporate music into their nightly routine experience increasingly better sleep.
Music is so fundamental to the human experience that it dates back to the earliest days of our existence. Throughout history, we can see the key role it played across cultures. In many ways, music is still considered the universal language of humankind, and it has shaped us in key ways. That is perhaps why there is so much evidence to support a strong connection between music and cognitive health.
Good mental well-being involves a careful balance of positive and negative emotions. Music, as we well know, can stimulate both. In fact, the emotional impact of music is far-reaching, determined by a multitude of factors, including its tempo, key, the instruments involved, and the lyrics (if present) used to accompany it.
While you may wonder about the benefits of stimulating negative emotions through music - why, for example, we choose to listen to sad music when we are sad - research suggests that people take pleasure in music-induced feelings of sadness, grief, and nostalgia. It acts as a form of catharsis, supporting emotional resolution and boosting feelings of connectedness. In this way, it can help us process and cope with adverse events and feelings.
Beyond that, studies are increasingly demonstrating the phenomenal power of music to help people overcome a range of mental health conditions - particularly anxiety and depression. It has also been shown time and time again that music can help reduce stress by keeping the brain engaged, helping to increase productivity, supporting better sleep, and reducing both physical and mental pain.
If you’ve been reading along, you can already see that the advantages of listening to music daily are vast and varied. However, another excellent way music offers great benefit is how it triggers and helps people maintain specific, positive behaviors.
In terms of health, music can not only provide exercise inspiration, but it can also help us to both work harder and increase our focus on the activity at hand. Speed and tempo are the factors with the biggest influence here. We tend to coordinate our movements with the beat of the music. This means the faster the song, the harder you will be working out. Music also helps reduce feelings of fatigue by providing a helpful distraction. This helps you to push yourself further and keep going longer than you might otherwise be able to.
Music also offers benefits to those who are looking to lose a little weight. Listening to slow and steady music in the background while you’re eating can help you eat slower and, therefore, end up eating less than you might without it. Again we tend to match the speed of our current activity with the beat of the music. Take care, though, because the reverse is also true. Uptempo music will have you eating faster and, consequently, potentially far more than you otherwise would.
From a productivity perspective, music has a similar effect when it comes to performing various tasks - faster music can often mean faster working. This is especially the case for boring and repetitive tasks (like household chores) - playing music you enjoy can make it far easier for you to make your way through your daily responsibilities, and with fewer errors too. For cognitively demanding tasks, there are a lot more delicate nuances to consider in how the qualities of the music will affect your performance.
This article barely scratches the surface on the vast benefits one can reap from a daily music listening habit, not to mention the considerations in musical characteristics matched to the task and goal at hand. That’s why Spiritune has made it our mission to build the most scientifically-informed, evidence-based music application to help you with everyday mental health goals and activities. Check us out on the App store today, if you haven’t already.