[This is a revision of a previous article – a shorter, simpler version.]
Listening to music that you love may be good for your heart and blood vessels. Dr. Michael Miller, Director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology, University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore, and his colleagues were the first to show that laughter has a beneficial effect on our blood vessels and this prompted their research into the effects of music. They, and other researchers, have shown that the positive emotions aroused by music that makes us happy, can have a healthy effect on the cells that line the inside of our blood vessels (called the endothelium).
High cholesterol and high blood pressure are well-known risk factors in the development of heart disease, yet there are people with neither risk factor who develop heart disease. This may be related to their response to stress. If music evokes positive emotions that counteract the negative effects of stress, it could have an important influence on the health of our blood vessels. In fact, Dr. Miller suggests that music should be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle, together with diet, exercise and other healthy habits. Whether it is rap, hip-hop, jazz, heavy metal, classical, reggae, calypso, salsa or bollywood – to name a few – in order to be 'heart healthy', it must be your choice of music.
Effect of Positive, Happy Emotions
The stress response begins in the brain and the brain plays a key role in the body's response to music. To determine the effect of music on the function of the blood vessels, the researchers used groups of healthy non-smokers, both men and women, of various ages. At different times the participants listened to either music that they loved, music that made them anxious, 'relaxation' music, or they watched a humorous video. Their endothelial function was assessed by measuring blood flow in the upper arm (a procedure known as brachial artery flow–mediated dilation, which can show the risk of heart disease and stroke).
The results were surprising. The flow-mediated dilation, or rate of blood flow, was greatest after listening to the music that they loved. The humorous video (laughter) came in second and listening to 'relaxation' music, third. [In one study, some teenagers dropped out because they did not like the 'relaxation' music]. The anxiety-producing music significantly reduced the flow of blood. Mental stress also causes narrowing of blood vessels (vasoconstriction) which slows the rate of blood flow.
The magnitude of increased blood flow associated with enjoyable music, that they chose themselves, was the same as that observed with aerobic exercise or a popular cholesterol-lowering drug (statin). How might this be explained? One theory is that the brain triggers the release of endorphins (the 'feel-good' hormones) which directly affect the blood vessels, causing them to widen. As the blood vessels widen, the blood flows faster and easier. [So, why not enhance this effect by exercising to your favourite music?]
Remember Michael Phelps? He won eight Olympic gold medals (swimming) in 2008. Before the start of each race he listened to his favourite music, hip-hop. Considering that blood carries food and oxygen to every cell in the body (including the brain), could music have contributed to his record-breaking performances? Consider also – an erection depends on blood flowing into the penis
now here's a good reason to add music, that you love, to your romantic repertoire!
Some notes from Marlene Busko's report on the American Heart Association's November, 2008, Scientific Sessions. New Orleans, LA. Abstract #5132. Includes studies reviewed by Dr. Sandra Romano Anthony. (416) 929-4909. www.nutritionandstressmanagement.com