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The surprising ways music benefits your brain and body

February 21, 2022 - 17 min read

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Benefits of music on the brain

Benefits of music on mental health

Benefits of music on physical health

Benefits of different types of music 

Many of us instinctively know the effects of music on our mood and energy. That’s why we’ll put on “Eye of the Tiger” to help us push through an intense workout or listen to weepy love songs after a breakup.

Perhaps you have Spotify playlists for certain occasions or just enjoy listening to your favorite songs as part of everyday life. Either way, your music listening habits can actually contribute to your overall health and wellness.

In fact, music has many benefits for your body, mind, and soul. It can improve learning, concentration, and memory. It can also boost your mental fitness, enhance physical performance, and reduce pain.

So let’s explore the benefits of listening to music for your brain, body, and mental health. Then, we’ll take a look at the specific benefits of different types of music and how you can harness their power.

Benefits of music on the brain

All of our human senses — including hearing — are processed by the brain. Keeping the brain active by stimulating it in a variety of ways can protect brain health, particularly as we age. This is why listening to music is one of the activities that can have a positive effect on brain health. 

Let’s take a closer look at how music affects the brain and helps to keep it young and healthy.

1. It stimulates most of the areas of your brain

Music activates almost all of your brain’s different regions and networks. It also strengthens connections between different parts of the brain. 

This includes the areas responsible for:

In fact, the only other activity that activates as many brain regions as music is taking part in social interactions.

2. It strengthens learning, memory, and cognition

According to a study on the effects of music on cognitive skills, listening to soft background music may improve cognition

Students were asked to complete cognitive tasks with and without the music. Those with the background music completed more tasks and got more answers right.

There is a caveat, though. The researchers believe the type of music is important and recommend relaxing music, such as classical or smooth jazz.

Other studies have found that listening to enjoyable music can improve memory and learning. This may be because music’s repetitive nature helps our brains to form patterns that improve our memories. 

Not everyone finds it useful to listen to music while studying or trying to retain information, but many people do. 

The extent to which it helps depends on several factors. These include how much you like the music and how musically trained you are. People with musical training are more likely to find music distracting.

Finally, one study found that language learners found it easier to remember phrases after singing them rather than just speaking normally or even rhythmically.

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3. It helps your brain age gracefully

Music can also form part of the treatment for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. 

Older adults living with such conditions often benefit from music therapy. Music can help people living with dementia by improving their cognition and helping them recover lost memories. 

Alzheimer’s patients can become agitated or suffer from anxiety and hallucinations. The research found that music can help to alleviate these symptoms and facilitate communication.

4. It boosts your creativity

As humans, creativity is one of our greatest assets. Not only does it allow us to create art, but it also helps with problem-solving and creating better products and services. This makes it a core competency in almost any role.

According to one study, listening to happy music — such as arousing or uplifting classical music — can enhance your creativity

Benefits of music on mental health

We all know music affects our mood. Perhaps you put on “Happy” by Pharrell Williams when you need a pick-me-up. 

Or maybe you have a power song that gets you pumped up whenever you have an important meeting or job interview. 

But music can go even further than giving you a more positive mental attitude. It’s also a great way to support your mental fitness. Here are four ways music can boost your mental health.

1. It helps regulate your mood

When you listen to music, the levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop. It also gives you a boost of dopamine, the reward hormone, which can help to elevate your mood. 

The part of the brain called the amygdala is responsible for processing music. It’s also the center of our mood and emotions. That’s why listening to upbeat music can help put you in a more positive mood.

Therefore, listening to happy music regularly can help regulate your brain chemistry. This can help you maintain greater mental and emotional balance.

2. It reduces stress

Regulating your cortisol levels with music can help relieve stress and make you feel more grounded.

There are different types of stress, including acute stress and chronic stress. Depending on the situation, a certain amount of acute stress can be beneficial as it helps you to deal with the problem at hand. 

Stress becomes a problem when it becomes chronic. Chronic stress causes hormonal imbalances. This can lead to headaches, insomnia, and other physical symptoms. 

Listening to music on a regular basis can relieve acute stress, which can prevent it from turning into chronic stress.

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3. It relieves anxiety and depression

Anxiety affects around 40 million adults in the US. Around half of those also suffer from depression. If you are one of them, you might want to consider adding music as a complement to any medical treatments prescribed by your doctor.

This is because listening to music releases dopamine. This is the hormone that activates your brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Getting a regular dopamine hit can help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.

4. It can increase your motivation

In one study, researchers wanted to test the effect of music on the motivation levels of cyclists on static bikes. To do this, they changed the tempo of the music without the participants’ knowledge. 

When they increased the tempo by 10%, the cyclists’ performance increased in terms of distance, pedaling speed, and power exerted. Decreasing the speed of the music by 10% had the opposite effect. This suggests that the higher-tempo music increased their motivation.

Benefits of music on physical health

The benefits of music on health don’t stop at your brain. Music can also support your physical health. Here are seven ways music affects the body. 

1. It keeps your heart healthy

Research shows that listening to relaxing music can slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. This helps to keep your heart healthy as blood can flow more freely. 

In fact, one study even found that music therapy could make blood pressure medication more effective

2. It boosts your immune system

We know by now that listening to music can help relieve stress and induce states of relaxation by regulating our hormones. 

Stress hormones can wreak havoc on our immunity (think about how you often get sick following a period of stress). But managing your stress levels through music regulates your hormones. This helps your immune system function at its optimal level. 

It can also improve biomarkers such as Immunoglobulin A, which play a vital role in immunity.

3. It improves your sleep quality

Many people are instinctively aware of the relaxing power of music. Perhaps you already use music to help you fall asleep or manage insomnia, and if so, you’re not alone. 

One study found that listening to classical music before bed helped students sleep better than those who listened to an audiobook or nothing. This means music can form part of a sleep hygiene routine.

The type of music that’s most relaxing for you depends on your musical tastes. However, some music is designed for deep relaxation using specific frequencies and binaural beats.

woman-listening-to-music-in-bed-benefits-of-music

4. It eases pain

Multiples studies have found that listening to music can help people feel less pain, for example, after surgery or in geriatric care. This may be because it gives the patient’s brain another stimulus to focus on, helping to distract them from the pain. 

It may also be the relaxing properties of music that help to alleviate or manage pain. This is why music therapy is a tool often used in pain management.

5. It can help you eat less

Listening to music can affect how much food you eat. In one study, researchers found that people eating in a fast-food restaurant with soothing background music and soft lighting ate 18% less calories than the control group. 

Conversely, another study found that listening to fast music increases the speed with which people eat. This means music can support people who want to learn mindful eating or intuitive eating.

6. It increases endurance

Many studies have shown that listening to stimulating music during a workout can boost your physical endurance and performance.

There are two main explanations for this. The first is that motivating music increases heart rate. This increases blood flow and therefore improves performance. 

The second is that music can help you find the mental strength and determination to push through when you feel you’re at your physical limit. 

7. It regulates your nervous system

Your nervous system has two main settings: “fight or flight” and “rest and digest.” Only one can be activated at a time. 

The fight or flight response is designed to come online when we face difficult situations. Once the stressor has passed, the nervous system switches back to rest and digest as the default setting. 

But our stressful lives can tip that delicate balance and flood your body with too many stress hormones. Listening to music can activate the rest and digest response by decreasing stress hormones and releasing reward and relaxation hormones.

Benefits of different types of music 

By now, you might be wondering how to harness the power of music in different situations. Here’s a guide to five of the most beneficial types of music.

Classical music benefits

Listening to classical music has a wide range of benefits for your brain and body, as we’ve already seen. For example, it can help you with relaxation, concentration, memory, and cognition.

But it can also have some unexpected benefits, such as crime reduction. In London, they started playing classical music in train stations. After 18 months, vandalism had decreased by 37%, robberies by 33%, and assaults on staff by 25%.

Jazz music benefits

Listening to relaxing music, such as smooth jazz, can induce an alpha-wave state in your brain. These waves occur when you’re awake but relaxed, making smooth jazz one of the best ways to wind down at the end of a long day.

Rap music benefits

Rap music often tells stories of people overcoming obstacles or achieving success in the face of unlikely odds. 

Researchers found that listening to inspiring narratives, such as the ones found in rap music, can help fight depression.

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Pop music benefits

Another study on music and physical performance found specifically that rock or pop music can increase endurance and physical performance during a workout.

Since many of the benefits of music depend on the tastes of the listener, pop and rock can also help boost the mood of those who enjoy listening to them.

Heavy metal music benefits

One study found that metal music fans have a strong sense of self. This means that listening to heavy metal may be helpful if you want to increase your self-confidence. 

Let the benefits of music enhance your life 

Now that you know the health benefits of music and how it can support your physical and mental fitness, you can use your favorite music whenever you need a boost

For example, you might listen to rap music when you feel down, metal music before an important presentation, or classical music to help you fall asleep.

If you think you need support that goes beyond Spotify’s latest offerings, try a free coaching session with BetterUp. Our expert coaches can help you become a calmer, more confident, and healthier version of yourself.

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Published February 21, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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