RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—If, as Shakespeare wrote, “music be the food of love,” what does it do for your heart? According to a new review of studies from researchers at the Arts and Quality of Life Research Center at Temple University, it can lower blood pressure and other forms of stress for patients with cardiovascular disease.
This isn’t the first evidence of music’s beneficial effects on the body’s physiological responses; other research has found that listening to music lowers cholesterol, improves mental focus, and increases endurance. But the idea of using music therapy still isn’t attracting much attention from medical professionals, says Joke Bradt, PhD, MT-BC, study coauthor and assistant director of the Research Center. “Unfortunately, there’s very little research on the preventative effects of the arts,” she says. “In order for us to be considered by professionals, we have to get more research out there.”
THE DETAILS: Bradt and her coauthor compared the results of 23 studies that analyzed music’s physical and psychological effects on people with coronary heart disease. The studies included a total of 1,461 patients, and in nearly all of the trials, patients were asked to select music provided by researchers. Temple University’s reviewers found that the music lowered blood pressure, heart rates, and respiratory rates, as well as anxiety in some patients.
WHAT IT MEANS: These days, music is available in more forms and formats than ever before. But we’re only beginning to understand its healing potential. More research needs to be done with trained music therapists to uncover its full impact, says Bradt. She points out that only four of the studies they found focused on depression in heart patients, and none included trained music therapists. “If a patient is depressed about a heart condition or being in the hospital, 30 minutes of passively listening to music probably won’t have that great an impact,” she notes. “But if these studies had included a trained music therapist who had special skills to engage patients, the outcome might have been very different.” Research is also lacking on the long-term outcomes and survival rates of heart surgery patients who listen to music, as well as the effect of music therapy on lowering blood pressure medication costs. But in the meantime, if you want to use music to boost your own health, listen to the kinds you like best. Patients seem to reap the most benefits when they choose their own music rather than picking from a predetermined list, says Bradt. Until music therapy becomes a part of your doctor's standard recommendations, you can find a board-certified music therapist at www.cbmt.org.