There’s a reason that you tap your feet to a tune involuntarily or why you run faster to certain songs. Music affects our brains and bodies in many different ways.
The McGill University in Montreal has an entire department that is invested in researching the neuropsychological effects of music.
In one study, they compared self-assessed anxiety levels and lab-tested cortisol levels between a group of patients that simply listened to music and a group of patients that took anti-anxiety meds. The results showed that those that simply took time to listen to music that they enjoyed had lower overall anxiety and cortisol levels than those that took the prescribed medication.
However, it does more than simply lower your blood pressure. Music has many benefits for the brain, body, and soul.
1. Mind Power
Music is a great tool for learning; it utilizes mathematics and focus to hone the skill of those playing instruments. Children who experience at least three years of instrumental music training have been shown to outperform their counterparts who have not had any. The two areas where the musically trained excelled were in auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills; two skills that are imperative for developing minds in children. Unfortunately, with budgets cuts in public schools, the music programs are suffering. Those who still have access to formal musical training, such as private schools and homeschoolers, should consider themselves lucky.
For adults, you may be happy (or traumatized) to hear that a short dance break may be just what you need for a boost of energy when you experience an afternoon slump.
Dancing usually requires little thought. It allows your brain to take the backseat and momentarily rest while your body works to get your blood flowing back into the brain, preparing you to take on the next task with more energy than you had moments before.
2. Exercise Enhancement
As early as 1911, statistician Leonard Ayres was recognized that listening to music helps to improve your performance while exercising. When engaged with the music that you are listening to, it makes it easier to ignore the brain’s cries of fatigue, causing you to exercise longer than you would have without listening to music. Additionally, the beats per minute (bpm) have an effect on your exercise routine as well.
Unconsciously, you will attempt to work out in rhythm with the beat of the song that you are listening to at the time. This is why, depending on how fast you run, your pace may determine what you like to listen to when you get on the treadmill.
Next time that you go to a gym or aerobics class, take note of the music choice. It is usually pop music. Pop music typically has a tempo of 110-140 bpm, which happens to match the cadence of a moderate running pace. This is not a coincidence.
3. Therapeutic Sounds
Listening to a song that we like triggers our brains to release a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is the same chemical that is associated with the feeling we have when we fall in love. It allows us to feel good, and it naturally nurtures a calmer state of being. Dopamine also ignites the frontal lobes of the brain — those associated with cognitive memory.
Many will agree that listening or playing music can help to elevate your mood and alleviate stress. It lowers the levels of cortisol in our body when we enjoy the music that we are listening to. You don’t always have to like what you hear to experience positive effects either. When you are in a depressed state, listening to music with sad lyrics or tones can be cathartic and help in the healing process.
The more that we understand about how music affects our brains, the more that we can utilize it to improve our memory and concentration, benefit our physical health and how it can further enhance our lives. Much like Nietzsche said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”