I’ve always admired those who can sing and play musical instruments. When I was younger, I would blast off Kelly Clarkson’s Behind Those Hazel Eyes in my bedroom into the wee hours. I always felt great afterwards – now I know why.
Recent research shows that listening to music improves our mental well-being and boosts our physical health in surprising and astonishing ways. If we take a music lesson or two, that musical training can help raise our IQs and even keep us sharp in old age. Here are 10 amazing scientifically-proven benefits of being hooked on music.
Music Makes You Happier
“I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.” – William James
It is proven that when you listen to music you fancy, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Valorie Salimpoor, a neuroscientist at McGill University, injected eight music-lovers with a radioactive substance that binds to dopamine receptors after they listened to their favorite music.
A PET scan showed that large amounts of dopamine were released, which biologically caused the participants to feel emotions like happiness, excitement, and joy.
Music Improves Memory
Did you know that doctors often use music and lyric to help individuals retrieve lost memories? Patients with memory loss can often remember songs and specific song lyrics. Certain music can trigger particularly unique memories – music from a specific time period will trigger memories from that time period. Want to remember something from the past? Listen to songs you listened to during that time!
Music and its effect on memory has been a heated debate in the scientific world, but researchers now have evidence that the processing of music and language, specifically memorizing information, rely on some of the same brain systems.
Researchers have also uncovered evidence that suggests the music we heard as teenagers has a greater emotional bind to our brain than anything we’ll listen to as adults.
This idea of musical nostalgia is a fun exercise for anyone, but is most impactful for people suffering from memory loss, including those with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
“The past, which is not recoverable in any other way, is embedded, as if in amber, in the music, and people can regain a sense of identity.” – Oliver Sacks, M.D.
Music Makes Exercise 10 Times Better
StairMaster got you down? Feeling sluggish on the treadmill?
Grab your earbuds and get jammin’!
Not only can music distract you from “bodily awareness” aka the aches and pains of working out, it has a health effect too.
Listening to music releases endorphins in the brain. Endorphins give us a heightened feeling of excitement. In addition to feeling euphoric, endorphins quell anxiety, ease pain and stabilize the immune system. With high endorphin levels, we have fewer negative effects of stress.
Turning up your tunes can also up the effort you exert during exercise. In one study, researchers found that cyclists worked harder and biked a further distance when listening to faster music as compared to music with a slower tempo. When the tempo slowed, so did their pedaling and their entire effect.
Their heart rates fell and their mileage dropped. They reported that they didn’t like the music much. On the other hand, when the tempo of the songs was upped 10 percent, the men covered more miles in the same period of time, produced more power with each pedal stroke and increased their pedal cadences.
For pace-based exercises like running or weight-lifting, music can help regulate rhythm and signal to the the brain when the body should move. This signal helps us to use our energy more efficiently, so we’re not exhausting ourselves too soon.
Got the groove? In scientific terms, groove is often described as a musical quality that can induce movement in a listener. Basically, you can’t stop yourself from moving! The next time you hit the gym, channel your inner diva and get groovin’!
Bottom Line: Make a playlist just for the gym or for working out. Need some ideas? Check out this list of the 100 best workout songs from FITNESS.
Music Reduces Pain
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley
Research at Drexel University in Philadelphia found that music therapy and pre-recorded music reduced pain more than standard treatments in cancer patients.
Other research showed that music can decrease pain in intensive care patients and geriatric care patients, but the selection needed to be either classical pieces, meditative music, or songs of the patient’s choosing.
Bob Marely was right about this one – listen to music you love to take your pain away.
Music Increases Verbal Intelligence
“Music is to the soul what words are to the mind.” – Modest Mouse
After only one month of music lessons (in rhythm, pitch, melody and voice), a study at York University showed that 90% of children between the ages of 4 and 6 had a significant increase in verbal intelligence.
Researcher Sylvain Moreno suggests that the music training had a “transfer effect” which enhanced the children’s ability to understand words and explain their meaning. Other research found that musically trained adult women and musically trained children outperformed those without music training on verbal memory tests.
No matter whether you’re an adult or a child, if you want to boost your verbal skills, try taking music lessons!
Music Raises IQ and Academic Performance
“Music can change the world because it can change people.” – Bono
Research shows that taking music lessons predicts higher academic performance and IQ in young children.
In one study, 6-year-olds who took keyboard or singing lessons in small groups for 36 weeks had significantly larger increases in IQ and standardized educational test results than children who took either drama lessons or no lessons.
The singing group did the best. To help your children achieve academic excellence, encourage them to sing or learn to play an instrument.
Music Relaxes Patients Before/After Surgery
“He who sings scares away his woes.” – Miguel de Cervantes
Researchers found that listening to relaxing music before surgery decreases anxiety.
In fact it’s even more effective than being orally administered Midazolam, a medication often used to help pre-op patients feel sleepy that also has gnarly side effects such as coughing and vomiting. Other studies showed that listening to soothing music while resting in bed after open heart surgery increases relaxation.
Globally, 234 million major surgeries are performed each year. If you or someone you know is going into surgery, be sure to bring some soothing tunes to ease anxiety. It may work better, and will certainly have fewer adverse side effects, than the meds they dispense.
Music Strengthens Learning and Memory
“Music is the language of memory.” – Jodi Picoult
Researchers discovered that music can help you learn and recall information better, but it depends on how much you like the music and whether or not you’re a musician. Subjects memorized Japanese characters while listening to music that either seemed positive or neutral to them.
The results showed that participants who were musicians learned better with neutral music but tested better when pleasurable music was playing. Non-musicians, on the other hand, learned better with positive music but tested better with neutral music.
Memorize these results. You now have a strategy to study more effectively for your next test.
Music Elevates Your Mood While Driving
“That’s what I love. Not being interrupted, sitting in the car by myself listening to music in the rain. There are so many great songs yet to sing.” – Alison Kraus
A study in the Netherlands found that listening to music can positively impact your mood while driving, which can lead to safer behavior than not listening to music. The next time you feel frustrated in traffic, turn up the tunes to improve your state of mind.
It won’t hurt your driving performance – it may even help you drive more safely.
Music Helps You Eat Less
“There’s a friendly tie of some sort between music and eating.” – Thomas Hardy
Research at Georgia Tech University showed that softening the lighting and music while people ate led them to consume fewer calories and enjoy their meals more.
If you’re looking for ways to curb your appetite, try dimming the lights and listening to soft music the next time you sit down for a meal.
If you fancy listening to music, you’re in good company. Charles Darwin once remarked, “If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.” Albert Einsteen declared, “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician.” Jimi Hendrix called music his religion.