A few songs a day keep the doctor away

Researchers in Serbia show that listening to music every day reduces blood pressure, heart rate, and patient anxiety, according to a seven-year study of 740 patients.

As a freelance writer, I admit that focus and discipline are two of the biggest obstacles to meeting deadlines. I could be doing laundry, playing piano, staring out the window...the list goes on. So I put on my Grados and launch iTunes to keep me focused (today it's Royksopp's "Melody A.M."). And it works. Every time.

New research suggests that listening to music every day is good for your heart, not just your soul. Elizabeth Armstrong Moore

According to research out of the University of Belgrade at Serbia, listening to music every day might also be good for the heart. Predrag Mitrovic just presented his study of 740 patients to the European Society of Cardiology 2009 Congress, demonstrating that 12 minutes of music a day reduces blood pressure, heart rate, patient anxiety, as well as the likelihood of reinfarction and sudden death in acute coronary syndrome patients.

Starting in April 1990, Mitrovic and colleagues had 370 patients listen to music twice a day for 12 minutes, and 370 patients listen to no music at all. During a seven-year follow-up period, those who had listened to music had less anxiety, although apparently by a level that is statistically insignificant. They did, however, reveal statistically significant reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressures and heart rates. They also had significantly less angina and heart failure.

Melissa Walton-Shirley caught wind of this study as well and shares this story in her blog, Heartfelt:

I encountered my first interface of music and medicine in 1985. I was assigned the pediatric oncology rotation and on my first day, a young pre-teen came for yet another bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. Though I don't recall her diagnosis, I do recall her headphones. I can see her now as she assumed the prone position, headphones in place, with music escaping around the earpieces. I remember how her body arched just slightly at the exact moment the thick red marrow appeared in the syringe. After it was done, she waited the appropriate amount of "down time" then removed her headphones, placed them neatly in her backpack and headed out the door smiling with a return appointment for another procedure. Regardless of her young age, there was no weeping or gnashing of teeth. I don't even recall her parents being in the room with her. I was amazed.

Mitrovic's isn't the first study to show that music therapy can be good for the heart, typically by decreasing sympathetic nervous activity. Other reports even show that positive emotions aroused by "happy" music can have favorable effects on the endothelium.

Mitrovic tells Heartwire that the type of music may matter--classical being the most common among his patients--but he cannot commit to any conclusions because his patients were not always up front. Some, for instance, admitted after some prodding that they were listening to "national" music instead of classical. "But if we give them the wrong type of music, it might have a negative effect," Mitrovic adds rather mysteriously.

I tend to write to minimalist electronica by Royksopp, Aphex Twin, and the like specifically because there are so few lyrics to distract me from my train of thought; I imagine that music that is less stressful might be the best pick for heart health, whereas genres such as death metal might fit Mitrovic's "negative effect" category.

Or maybe it's simply that people's hearts benefit from the music that is soothing to them, which is likely a very individual preference. I suppose we'll have to wait for a study of the effects of death metal music on death metal fans before we can put that one to rest.

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About the author

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Ore., and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.

 

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