Merry Christmas everyone! And welcome back to More Than Healthy as we continue to share a Full Year of Resolutions. This week, which is the week after Christmas, we’re talking about one of our very favorite health tips. Tip #51 is all about the health benefits of listening to uplifting music, podcasts, or books.
This tip might seem a little different from the past 50 tips we’ve shared with you. How does what we listen to possibly affect our health? But you might be surprised at the remarkable science behind the effects that the constant stream of sound and music we’re surrounded by have on us. It affects us mentally and emotionally, but it affects us physiologically in our bodies as well. In fact, one of the reasons you probably love the holiday season is because of the wonderful, familiar music we listen to all month long. That music affects your well-being.
You are what you listen to
At More Than Healthy, we talk a lot about the quality of the foods and drinks we consume. The saying “you are what you eat” is true. Science confirms that we are what we listen to as well. We are wired to need food and water. If the food and water that we have access to are unclean, filled with unhealthy additives, or highly processed, our bodies pay the price.
We are wired to receive and respond to messages through the music (and other things) we listen to as well. If the music, podcasts, or other ‘noise’ we’re surrounded by is toxic, it has a similarly unhealthy effect on us. As one music expert said, “Depending on the vibrations, rhythms, and frequencies created, our bodies can respond to music as being highly nutritious, empty calorie, or damaging/toxic.”
A noisy world of listening choices
Never in the history of the world has there been so much “noise.” We live in a time of information overload! Most humans on the planet today have access to unlimited music, podcasts, youtube videos, audiobooks, reels, etc., right in their pockets. But in all of those choices, there is a lot of toxic (or at the very least “empty calorie”) choices.
There are so many incredible and uplifting things to choose from, there really is no excuse to waste any time or space on anything less than good for us. We just need to be intentional when we choose what we listen to.
I think this is something we all know to be true. But let’s identify some of the science behind this, and just how true it really is.
The science behind the health benefits of listening to uplifting music
Let’s focus on music first. As both a mother and lifelong pianist and organist, I knew a little something about the power of music. But once I started studying the science behind this, I was blown away. You could spend days reading the research and still just barely scrape the tip of the iceberg. In fact, NAMM (The National Association of Music Merchants, a worldwide philanthropic, educational, and research foundation) has compiled a 151-page document with some facts about the benefits of music.
Here are just a handful of examples:
“Schools with music programs have an estimated 90.2% graduation rate and 93.9% attendance rate compared to schools without music education, which average 72.9% graduation and 84.9% attendance.”
“Secondary students who participated in band or orchestra reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances (alcohol, tobacco, drug abuse).”
“Playing an instrument as a kid leads to a sharper mind in old age, according to a new study conducted by Brenda HannaPladdy, a clinical neuropsychologist in Emory’s Department of neurology, and her colleagues. The researchers gave 70 people between the ages of 60 and 83 a battery of tests to measure memory and other cognitive abilities. The researchers found that those who had played an instrument for a decade or longer scored significantly higher on the tests than those with no musical background.”
And, there are 151 more pages of similar facts proving the immense power that is available to us through music. Music is actually scientifically proven to make you smarter!
In 1996, the College Entrance Exam Board Service conducted a study on all students taking their SAT exams. Students who sang or played a musical instrument scored 51 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and an average of 39 points higher on math. Wow!!
Music as therapy
Music (usually specifically classical music) is used in all sorts of healing and therapeutic settings. Music is used in prisons and in conflict resolution sessions. It is used in school programs on topics of self-esteem and anti-bullying. Hospitals use music to promote and speed the healing process and to reduce stress. Music is used in hospice care, bringing peace into this difficult transition process.
Music and anger management
Classical music is used in combating domestic violence. Donna Stoering, a renowned pianist and music therapist, has an amazing TED talk on intentional listening and music’s power as a channel of communication. (I’ve linked it for you here and highly recommend you listen to it.)
Donna tells of a famous NBA basketball player who was in treatment for domestic violence and anger management. His therapist reprogrammed the music app on his phone, replacing all the intense and aggressive rap music with Mozart, Chopin, and Debussy. The therapist insisted that he listen to it intentionally, especially on the way home from games or practice.
In just six weeks, the player came to his appointment hand in hand with his wife, and said, “I can’t believe the difference. I get home after playing and I still have energy, but I don’t feel aggressive or dominant. I want to have a relationship. I want to have a discussion. I’m in the mood to listen.” The therapist then explained that our ability to listen to others has a lot to do with how we listen to music. I think this is a really powerful example of the power of good music.
Music and behavior
Here’s another story about the power of music. A school teacher started playing Mozart as the kids were coming into class. They all complained and said, “Turn it off! We hate that stuff!” But she ignored them. In just a few weeks, their test scores and academic success had significantly improved, and behavior problems were way down.
Music: A natural anti-aging remedy?
Music makes a dramatic difference in the elderly with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Just last week, I spent time at a hospice rehab center with a group of elderly patients, all in wheelchairs, at a Christmas sing-along concert. People who can’t remember their spouses or even their own names are suddenly singing along to every word of beloved, familiar holiday music. It was a tender experience for me, watching this group of people clap and sing and smile. It was visual proof that music has the power to connect with dormant parts of the brain. Music “wakes us up.”
Studies demonstrate that music enhances the memory of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. One study showed that Alzheimer’s patients improved in memory tests when they listened to classical music. This is because music stimulates specific parts of the brain that help to access memory.
Another study, titled “Music Training: An Antidote for Aging?” had similar results. Adults aged 60 to 85 with no previous musical experience exhibited improved processing speed and memory after just three months of weekly 30-minute piano lessons and three hours a week of practice. The control group showed no changes in these abilities.
There are pages of additional studies on the power of music in combating memory and recall issues as we age. What a pleasant and easy way to fight some of the most frightening aspects of growing old!
Your brain on music
Music affects the brain. One of the objectives of music therapy is to “rewire the brain”. But music also has an effect on actual brain chemistry. In fact, exposure to uplifting music can help undo some of the damage that trauma has on children’s brains. Brain scans show this music can also help heal the brain by creating new neuropathways around damaged areas. This is fascinating stuff with such amazing potential to affect our brains, both positively and negatively.
Music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain. Neurologists can now tell us how and where certain types of music affect different regions of the brain. If you play music with a loud, hard beat pattern on a loop and play it at high volume for 10 hours, neurologists tell us it creates a groove in the brain. It doesn’t matter if it’s rap music or Gershwin, listening like that physically alters the brain and allows strong, subconscious messaging to happen.
Some music facilitates learning
Conversely, neurologists have identified certain types of music that open specific neuro-pathways of the brain to enhance learning. Mozart and Vivaldi are particularly effective. For example, if you’re training to learn a foreign language, music by Vivaldi opens that part of your brain.
Mozart is so effective at enabling learning that it’s been given a title, “The Mozart Effect.” Scientists at Stanford University actually figured out a molecular basis for this effect that causes animals and humans to perform better on learning and memory tests after listening to a specific Mozart sonata.
There are hundreds of benefits of the Mozart Effect. Here are just a few:
- Improved test scores
- Ability to learn faster
- Calms hyperactive children and adults
- Reduces errors
- Improves creativity and clarity
- Integrates both sides of the brain for more efficient learning
- Raises IQ scores by 9 points
- Heals the body faster
There are so many studies confirming these benefits! Corporations are even catching on. Major companies like Shell, IBM, and Dupont (along with hundreds of schools and universities) use Baroque and Mozart music to cut learning time in half and to increase retention of new materials.
The physical benefits of listening to uplifting music
Let’s take a look at some of the physical benefits of listening to uplifting music. Extensive research proves that music provides a host of benefits, including reducing stress, because it reduces the production of cortisol and increases the release of stress-reducing neurotransmitters. It can also reduce stress by reducing a patient’s sense of isolation and helping them reconnect with positive places within themselves.
Uplifting music helps healthy circulation by reducing blood pressure and stabilizing the heart rate. Listening to even a few bars of soothing music reduces your blood pressure by at least a few points. Music can strengthen the immune system by triggering the production of gamma globulin A and killer cells. It can help improve mood by increasing the production of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.
Studies also show that music helps patients manage pain better than medication alone.
Researchers from the University of Utah Pain Research Center evaluated the potential benefits of music for diverting psychological responses to experimental pain stimuli. Music helps reduce pain by activating sensory pathways that compete with pain pathways, stimulating emotional responses, and engaging cognitive attention.
The benefit of music in hospital settings
Beyond these general benefits, music has been shown to have specific benefits for specific hospital patients. In a neonatal ward, music can give a newborn a soothing first experience of sound, replacing the beeping of medical machinery. In a COVID unit, it can help a patient with compromised lungs stabilize erratic respiration. In a cancer ward, it can help a patient cope better with pain. In a waiting room, it can help ease the anxiety of an upcoming procedure.
Podcasts and audiobooks
Let’s talk for a moment about other things we can listen to, such as podcasts and audiobooks. I absolutely love listening to podcasts and books. There is SO much out there to learn about! A good podcast or book makes any mundane chore infinitely better. I love listening when I’m getting ready in the morning, while exercising, or in the car. A great podcast or audiobook even makes weeding more enjoyable! It’s a great way to multitask.
Studies show that podcasts stimulate mental imagery more intensely than watching or reading, and they help listeners to pay better attention. It forces you to use your imagination and build pictures in your mind. Podcasts and audiobooks allow us to become part of what we’re listening to. They stimulate different parts of the brain than what we use when we watch or read and force us to actively listen.
Podcasts for meditation
We’ve already dedicated previous posts to getting better sleep, the health benefits of meditation, and breathwork. Have you ever listened to a meditation podcast? As someone who regularly struggles to “power down my mind,” I really appreciate a good meditation app. Listening to this type of podcast helps activate your brain stem, thalamus, and auditory cortex. As a result, the brain releases oxytocin. This hormone reduces stress and anxiety.
Some of our favorite podcasts and audiobooks
David and Carla are fans of podcasts too, and they’re always listening to something about functional nutrition and cutting-edge health topics. I reached out to them, and they shared some of their favorite podcasts in case you’d like to check them out:
A couple of my own favorites include:
And, if you love to travel,
You can learn about absolutely anything you’re interested in! And it’s all basically free.
We can’t leave out audiobooks. Even my college students who struggle with reading can “read” all the books they want when they use an app to stream them. Great apps include Audible, SCRIBD, and Libro.fm (this last one supports local, independent bookstores).
Some of Carla’s favorite audiobooks include:
Endure: Tools, Tactics & Habits for Optimizing Spiritual Stamina by Ben Greenfield
Glucose Revolution: The Life-Changing Power of Balancing Your Blood Sugar by Jessie Inchauspe
My list of favorites is too long to include here. But life is always better with a big pile of books to be read. Or, when it comes to audiobooks, a big list of books downloaded and queued up, ready to play.
What are you listening to?
With so many great choices out there, what are you listening to? We’d love to hear your recommendations. What are some of your favorite podcasts and audiobooks? Let us know if you have any questions about the health benefits of listening to uplifting music, podcasts, or books.
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If you have health questions on anything we’ve discussed or really any issue you can go to our social media pages on Facebook or Instagram @morethanhealthyliving and ask it there. We try to respond to all questions. More Than Healthy would love to help you in any way and coach you on your journey to optimal health – the New Year is a great time to recommit to living your best, healthiest life.
Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next week.