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Hearts helped by Music
Once a week we will put an item from a reputable scientific source here.

Music, Like Laughter, Benefits Heart Health


Listening to enjoyable music may be good for cardiovascular health, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Maryland showed for the first time that positive emotions aroused by joyful music have a favourable effect on the endothelium [the layer of cells that lines the inside of the blood vessels].

"We believe that the brain plays a pivotal role in vascular [blood vessels] health," lead author Michael Miller, MD, told Medscape Psychiatry. "High cholesterol and high blood pressure are very important, but some individuals lacking these risk factors develop significant heart disease, and that may be partly related to their response to stress."

“If music can evoke positive emotions to counteract negative stresses of everyday life, it could have a very important influence on vascular health”, he said. "It should be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle, just as we might incorporate other healthy habits."


Positive Emotions

According to Dr. Miller, it has been known for some time that mental stress can cause vasoconstriction [narrowing of blood vessels]. He added that his group was the first to show that laughter has a beneficial effect on the endothelium. They wondered whether positive emotions evoked by music would have a similar effect.

To determine the effect of music on endothelial function, the researchers conducted a study that comprised 10 participants: healthy, nonsmokers — 7 male and 3 female — with a mean age of 36 years. They selected 30 minutes of music they enjoyed. To minimise emotional desensitisation, participants were told to avoid listening to this particular music for 2 weeks prior to the start of the study.

"We didn’t assign music for them to listen to. We wanted participants to emote positively based on their previous experience with certain music," said Dr. Miller.

Volunteers were also asked to identify music that made them feel anxious.

On four separate occasions, 1 week apart, the subjects' endothelial function was assessed by measuring blood flow in the upper arm. On each occasion, brachial artery flow–mediated dilation [a parameter used to assess endothelial dysfunction – used to determine cardiovascular risk] was measured at baseline and after 30 minutes of: (a) enjoyable music, (b) anxiety-provoking music, (c) a humorous video clip and (d) a relaxation tape.

The researchers found that, compared with baseline, the subjects' mean flow-mediated dilation:

  • Increased 26% after listening to enjoyable music (P = .0002).
  • Decreased 6% after listening to anxiety-provoking music (P = .005).
  • Increased 19% after watching a humorous video (P = .08).
  • Increased 11% after listening to a relaxation tape (NS).

The magnitude of increased flow-mediated dilation, associated with self-selected enjoyable music, was the same as that previously observed with aerobic activity or statin [cholesterol-lowering drug] therapy.

"We think that the basis for this is due to endorphins or endorphin-like compounds released from the brain that have a direct effect on the vasculature. It comes back to that 'big black box' of mind-heart connexion, which is so hard to quantify but is an underdeveloped area that is worth further investigation," he said.

Marlene Busko’s report on the American Heart Association 2008 Scientific Sessions – modified by Dr. San for general ‘consumption’. The study was presented at the American Heart Association 2008 Scientific Sessions, 11th November, 2008, New Orleans, LA. Abstract  #5132.

Dr. San's note: Michael Phelps won 8 Olympic gold medals (swimming) – could music have contributed to his record-breaking performance?  Remember, he always listened to his favourite music, hip-hop, prior to diving into the water at the start each race. Hhhmmm!


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