Music: how and why it works for better health

Originally from an interview with Jenna Birch at Fitbit   


The potential benefits of music as a therapeutic and healing tool are endless!  The ways that music affects you can have a big impact on health, happiness and personal growth, or they can just be a way to reduce stress and enhance mood.  Some of the specifics about music include:

-This is Your Brain on Music” (Plume/Penguin, 2007) tells us that listening to and playing music increases the body’s production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells — the cells that attack invading viruses and boost the immune system’s effectiveness. Music also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

-Children with emotional disorders receiving music therapy show less anxiety, greater emotional responsivity and better communication skills.

-Outcomes reported by the American Psychological Association indicate that music is medicine for premature infants, depressed people and those with Parkinson’s disease. Lullabies may soothe pre-term babies and their parents, improving their sleep and eating patterns. It is also calming to the parents.

– In the trial with 42 children ages 3 to 11, University of Alberta researchers found that patients who listened to relaxing music while getting an IV inserted reported significantly less pain, and some demonstrated significantly less distress, compared with patients who did not listen to music  (JAMA Pediatrics, July, 2013).

-Music improves the body’s immune system function and reduces stress. Listening to music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April, 2013).

-University of Toronto’s Music and Health Research Collaboratory brings together scientists from around the world who are studying music’s effect on health.The group is  examining something called thalamocortical dysrhythmia — a disorientation of rhythmic brain activity involving the thalamus and the outer cortex that appears to play a role in several medical conditions including Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease, says Bartel, who directs the collaboratory.”Since the rhythmic pulses of music can drive and stabilize this disorientation, we believe that low-frequency sound might help with these conditions,” Bartel says. He is leading a study using vibroacoustic therapy with patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease. The hope is that using the therapy to restore normal communication among brain regions may allow for greater memory retrieval, he says.”

With all of the evidence of the power of music, when doctors listen to music during procedures, the patient should talk to the surgeon about the kind of music they would like to hear while they are in surgery.

There are many, many studies on the effects of music and it is a broad field so there is much more to tell, but here are some fun facts:

-The Mozart Effect –  Mozart’s music has been found to have powerful properties. Monks who played Mozart during baking of bread or making of beer found that the food and drink were reviewed differently than the same products made without the music; the products made to a background of Mozart were rated as tasting better.  There is much to be said about the Mozart Effect and more can be found at

-Another fun fact is that there were plant studies in which plants that were exposed to classical music fared better and were healthier than those exposed to heavy metal music. In one study experimenters showed that the best schedule of auditing sound was not to play it continuously but rather to have it play for a few hours intermittently.  When it was played continuously it caused fatigue.


  • Generally, music that resonates with the body’s natural heartbeat is best.  The body responds to beats, rhythms and sounds.
  • Choose the most soothing, uplifting, happy and high-quality music you can. Think of it as food – you want to put the best food into your body and music has a similar effect of nurturing the self.
  • The body responds to soothing music by slowing down the stress response, by slowing the breath which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is necessary for the body to relax and to heal from any health condition or just from one day of stress
  • Music that is raucous and is random or chaotic has the opposite effect and raises the body’s stress level. Also, any music that evokes a negative emotional response due to past memories.
  • You have most likely had the experience of walking in public and you hear a song on a loudspeaker that reminds you of specific things that have happened to you in your life and your mood quickly lifts. Listen to music from your generation or favorite movie to generate happy feelings.


  • Use the music you need; for example, if you are low energy, play a march and get up and move around or play music that energizes you.
  • When stressed, use classical music, especially Mozart or  Pachelbel’s Canon and allow yourself to stop and just listen.
  • Listen to the best quality music in your favorite genre that is available to you, something with a positive message.
  • To change a mood when feeling low, start with music that reflects your mood and them move to slighter more positive music and then to very positive music. Your mind and body need time to respond so this approach is effectively used in music therapy programs.
  • Use the research above and listen to music intermittently, rather than all the time.
  • See my chapter in Spiritual Fitness on using music as therapy, and the bibliography of music at the end.

Possibly, ways to develop doseable music both amounts and kinds for specific purposes!


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