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Interested in Living La Vida Loca? Music Might Be Your Ticket to Ride

By Martha Michael

Benefits of Music

Whether you prefer Beethoven or Bruno Mars, when you listen to your favorite artist or play an instrument yourself, there’s more going on than providing music to your ears. When music stimulates various parts of your brain there’s an impact to the body that can lower your blood pressure, boost cognitive function, and improve your sleep quality.

So if you’re interested in living la vida loca, music might be your ticket to ride.

Physical Impact of Music

Most people are aware that fast music raises your heart rate and speeds up your breathing, while slower tunes contribute to relaxation. You have physical reactions to music that are related to your taste in music as well, according to an article on When you hear a song you don’t like, it may not do much for you, but your body reacts to your favorite music by releasing dopamine that offers a boost to your mood.

From joy and excitement to fear and sadness, you’ve probably experienced a range of emotions by streaming your playlist. The effects of letting music move you can impact your health and wellness. Listening to music may be responsible for:

  • Reducing stress reduction
  • Lowering anxiety levels
  • Boosting your exercise habits
  • Helping autistic kids communicate
  • Offering comfort

In addition to the benefits of listening to music, taking part yourself gives your brain a health-inducing workout. From practicing the piano to taking guitar lessons, it provides a way to nurture your creative side and achieve balance. Musical input can help you gain a new perspective on old thought processes.

Playing an instrument engages the central nervous system, combining the use of both the left and right sides of the brain, according to a blog by Penn Medicine News. When two hands are used for an instrument, such as a violin, it involves both fine and gross motor skills controlled by the brain’s executive function, the area responsible for decision making. It’s a comprehensive mental fitness exercise involving auditory, visual, and emotional sensory input.

You not only see long-term benefits from a lifetime of music participation; there are more immediate results as well. Studies show it improves cognitive function, including verbal fluency, memory, ability to plan, and faster processing.

Aging and the Brain

An article on the Johns Hopkins website discusses the impact of music on the aging brain. Studies show that listening to music can improve mood, alertness, sleep, and memory in seniors.

What an individual perceives as music is caused by vibrations that enter the ear canal and reach the eardrum, sending an electrical signal through the auditory nerve to the brain stem. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, the university’s researchers collected data from jazz musicians and rappers, gauging which parts of their brains were activated when they performed.

“Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next,” an otolaryngologist conducting the research says. “You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it.”

Older adults tend to listen to music that reminds them of life in their teens and 20s, but studies show they benefit more from hearing a variation in styles. The discomfort you feel by changing genres of music forges new neuropathways, making your mind work harder, resulting in an improvement in your brain function.

If you insist on streaming the Beatles and the Beach Boys, one way to turn the old standards into a brain benefit is to focus on a memory associated with them. The effort to recall is good for you.

Sleep and Music

Due to new apps and streaming services, many people fall asleep to musical sounds. Lullabies are no longer reserved for children because individuals of all ages can improve their sleep quality through relaxing music.

According to an article by the Sleep Foundation, studies show immediate effects when subjects listen to 45 minutes of music before going to bed. Participants report better quality of sleep, which continues as they make the practice routine. Citing a study from the Journal of Community Health Nursing, the article says a study involving women suffering from insomnia used music to speed up the process of falling asleep. They initially took 27 to 69 minutes to get to sleep, but streaming music before bed lowered that time to 6 to 13 minutes.

By affecting your hormones, the sound of music can shift your brain from daytime levels of alertness to the calm required for adequate sleep to take place. When music causes the release of dopamine it not only triggers feelings of pleasure, it also decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Relaxation caused by listening to music has an impact on automatic and unconscious systems involving your lungs, heart, and digestion.

There’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation for musical style to have its greatest effects. The individual songs that create better quality of sleep are your choice, but slower speeds are typically most effective. The average resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute and studies show that music with the same speed can be most effective.

Whether you want to veg out to Vivaldi or dance, dance, dance to Justin Timberlake, your body is reacting to the music. Paying attention to your body when choosing what to listen to can help you take control and hit a high note where your health is concerned.

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