December 26, 2008

A Song in Your Heart

Like laughter, listening to music you like may actually help promote cardiovascular health.
If you enjoy listening to your favorite music to unwind, you may actually be making a significant contribution to your cardiovascular health, suggests a new study, presented at a recent meeting of the American Heart Association. Researchers found that listening to pleasurable music helped dilate participants' blood vessels significantly — the same kind of work that blood pressure medications like statins do.

The researchers found that listening to pleasurable music increased the diameter of the artery by 26%, while listening to distasteful music decreased it by 6%.

Researcher Michael Miller and his team at the University of Maryland Medical Center wondered whether music might have the same positive effect on the cardiovascular system as laughter does, a connection they'd discovered in an earlier study.

The investigators had 10 men and women listen to their favorite music for half an hour (subjects were told beforehand to bring in their most beloved music); in another portion of the experiment, participants listened to music that they said made them feel anxious. While listening to each selection of music, the subjects were given an ultrasound to determine how well the brachial artery responded (dilated) after blood flow was briefly restricted and then released.

The researchers found that, as anticipated, listening to pleasurable music increased the diameter of the artery by 26%, while listening to distasteful music decreased it by 6%. Though Miller and his team are excited by the findings, they make sure people realize that they are "not saying to stop your statins or not to exercise but to add this to an overall program of heart health."

Why does music have this effect on the cardiovascular system? The answer is not totally clear at this time, but Miller suggests it may have something to do with endorphins. "The active listening to music evokes such raw positive emotions likely in part due to the release of endorphins, part of that mind-heart connection that we yearn to learn so much more about."

Though most participants chose country music as their favorite type, the authors say it is less a matter of the type of music than it is the body's physiological reaction to the joy that the music elicits in the brain. As Miller says of devising the study, "I asked myself what other things make us feel real good, besides calories from dark chocolate of course. Music came to mind. ... It makes me feel real good."
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