“Music has charms to soothe a savage beast.” Or so it was said in William Congreve’s 1697 play The Mourning Bride. Music has been with us for millennia. It’s part of all cultures throughout the world. Whether it’s classical, dance, folk, rock, country or heavy metal, we listen to music for one key reason, because we enjoy it. But there are also a number of other reasons why music is good for you.
Improve Your Workouts
If you find your best workouts are the ones when you’re listening to your favourite tunes, you’re not alone. Music and movement go together. It’s almost a basic instinct as the first thing young kids do when they hear music is dance. No different from the foot tapping adults do.
Indeed, listening to motivational music can improve exercise performance and reduce the sense of effort. And selecting the music isn’t based on any scientific algorithm, just pick what you find to be motivational. Using music with a beat that matches your cadence can also help with pacing. And both seasoned athletes and those new to exercise benefit. Music is believed to be so helpful to performance, in 2007 the US Track and Field Association banned the use of headphones in it’s races. While the ban has been relaxed, most race directors still deter the use of headphones.
But music can be distracting and remove you from your surroundings. This can have safety implications if you’re running or cycling on the roads and among traffic. Many of us use exercise as a calming experience and to clear our minds. Music may at times interfere with that ability to just be with your own thoughts. And since many of us use our phones constantly, the idea of setting it aside while we exercise may be freeing in itself.
Makes You Feel Better and is Good for Your Brain
Just as music can calm the savage beast, it can improve your mood and make you happy. Listening to music for as little as 12 minutes can increase happiness. If you’re stressed, music can help with that too. So much so it is used as a non-medical means of reducing anxiety right before undergoing surgery. The effects of music seem to result in increases in oxytocin (the love hormone) and dopamine (involved in the reward pathway). Music also reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
Listening to music can also improve memories. Many of us experience this when listening to an old song that takes us back to a time in earlier our lives. Having music in the background can improve cognitive performance and short-term memory. In people with cognitive decline, listening to music daily resulted in improved mood, better sleep and improved quality of life. And there is even evidence to suggest music can reduce decline and improve memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Add to Your NEAT Expenditure
When listening to music it’s hard not to move. While all that head bobbing, foot tapping and boogying may not quite be exercise, is does count towards the amount of NEAT in your day. NEAT is non-exercise activity thermogenesis. It’s low intensity activities usually done over a short period of time. But throughout the day NEAT can account for up to 20% of calories burned.
People who move about while sitting or standing, or who take short walking breaks, tend to be leaner and have lower blood cholesterol and blood sugar. And if you add singing along with your favourite tunes, you’re burning twice as many calories as sitting alone.
If you are counting calories, listening to music can lead to slower and potentially less eating. In a lab-based study, having music in the background resulted in people taking longer to eat chocolate compared to eating in silence. Both slow and fast tempo music resulted in longer eating times, with slower music leading to the longest times.
Music is Good for Your Health
The effects of music on health are so pronounced, it’s also used to manage a number of medical conditions. Music therapy, as it’s referred to, is the purposeful use of music to improve health and wellbeing. It can be as simple as listening or singing to music, or as involved as playing musical instruments.
Daily listening to calming music has been demonstrated to lower blood pressure, and even improve the effectiveness of blood pressure medications. Music therapy is also effective at reducing pain, whether acute, chronic or in cancer patients. It has also been shown to reduce pain following heart surgery. And if you’re having trouble falling asleep, listening to music can result in a better night’s sleep. Even after the first night.
But don’t worry about trying to find the ideal piece of music. There’s no one piece of music that works for everyone. What seems to matter most is whether you like it or not. This tends to be more important than the tempo of the music. Whereas listening to music you don’t like can be aggravating and may result in increased stress. So grab your favourite tunes, phone, ear buds or Walkman, and enjoy the benefits of listening to music.
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