Listen to the Music: How Music Affects Heart Health

Listening to your favorite tunes is not only good for your mood, but it also may help your heart. A study by Italian researchers, published in "Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association," found that both blood flow and respiratory rates can synch with music.

An earlier study, in the publication "Heart," demonstrated that music with faster tempos caused listeners to experience increased breathing rates, heart rates and blood pressure. Listening to slower music appears to have the opposite effect.

"Music induces a continuous, dynamic—and to some extent predictable—change in the cardiovascular system," said Dr. Luciano Bernardi, lead researcher of the study and a professor of Internal Medicine at Pavia University in Pavia,  Italy, according to the AHA. "It is not only the emotion that creates the cardiovascular changes, but this study suggests that also the opposite might be possible., that cardiovascular changes may be the substrate for emotions, likely in a bi-directional way."

Volume Matters

Loud music versus soft also has an effect. Researchers have found that while swelling crescendos—gradual volume increases—seem to include "moderate arousal," decrescendos result in relaxation in the listener.

"The profile of music (crescendo or decrescendo) is continuously tracked by the cardiovascular and respiratory systems," Bernardi said, according to the AHA. This is particularly evident when music is rich in emphasis, like operatic music. These findings increase our understanding of how music could be used in rehabilitative medicine."
Interestingly, changes were noted in the subjects even during the silent pause: the blood vessels under the skin dilated and there were marked reductions in heart rate and blood pressure.

The Verdict

So does this mean you should listen to music more often? Experts believe it couldn't hurt.

"We are finding that music, depending on the tempo and the type, can result in either increases or decreases in blood pressure and heart rate," says Dr. Sidney Smith, professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina and a past president of the AHA. 

"Music may reduce stress, and it is clear that reduction in stress is an important avenue for controlling risk factors for heart disease and for placing patients at a lower risk for having a cardiac event."

Actual music may not be the only sound that can lower blood pressure. In another study, an audio-guided relaxation CD with background sounds of ocean waves and a calming voice is believed to lower blood pressure in the elderly, according to the AHA. The researchers found that the program lowered blood pressure more than a Mozart sonata in a group of elderly people who had high blood pressure.

Previous studies have shown that music can reduce stress, improve athletic performance, and enhance the motor skiills of those with neurological impairments, according to the AHA.

One way to start may be to load your Ipod with some soothing tunes and go for a brisk walk. Or maybe just enjoy the sounds of silence for a few minutes.