Dr Mark Winwood, Clinical Lead for Mental Health Services at AXA Health

The health benefits of music

19 January 2021

Mother and daughter dancing

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Listening to music has many positive effects on our health and wellbeing, from de-stressing or improving a bad mood, to improving concentration, aiding relaxation and promoting a peaceful night’s sleep. Whatever you’re into, be it classical or country, prog rock or pop, disco or drum and bass (the list is endless), chances are you will have felt some benefits, while perhaps not realising the many others.

Of course, our relationship with music and our experiences of it are as individual as we are – what uplifts one person may stir powerful emotions in another, what helps boost concentration and focus for some may irritate others. Music’s ability to elicit emotional responses is unique for each of us, but one thing is certain – decades of research into the complexities of the brain and its reactions to music has united scientists about its powerful effects on our health. In short, listening to music is good for us! 

Dr Mark Winwood, Clinical Lead for Mental Health Services at AXA Health, says: 

“When we hear songs or tunes that we enjoy listening to there are a number of ways our brains respond, not least those associated with pleasure and reward. It releases endorphins – the feelgood chemicals that can make us feel euphoric – and dopamine, an important pleasure chemical associated with reward. Listening to music we love arouses feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as part of our reward system brought about by doing something enjoyable.”

Top ways that music is beneficial for mind and body

There are many ways music can benefit our physical and mental wellbeing. Dr Mark Winwood highlights and explains some of them.

1. Music can pick us up when we’re down

“Music is mood-boosting. The endorphins released when we hear music can uplift our spirits and contribute towards a sense of happiness. Listening to our favourite songs, especially if it’s something upbeat, can help us feel joyful and excited. It also stimulates the production of Dopamine, a hormone related to positive happy feelings. And if you move to the music? Try it out – it’s impossible to be in a bad mood when you dance to something you love!”

2. Music can help relieve stress and anxiety

“Due to the feelgood nature of music, it’s not surprising that it can help relieve feelings of stress and anxiety – along with releasing dopamine it reduces the production of cortisol, one of the powerful stress hormones. When we listen to music we love, whether it’s upbeat or not – by connecting with something familiar it evokes feelings of safety, which is especially helpful during uncertain times. The repetitive beats and knowing what comes next signals to our brains that all is okay – the decrease in cortisol has a calming effect which helps ground us and reduce blood pressure.”

3. Music can improve memory and cognitive function

“Listening to music activates certain regions in our brain, in particular the nerve pathways involved in movement, planning, attention and memory. Music can touch us deeply and is particularly helpful in the treatment of people with dementia or those with cognitive impairment.  Its ability to help recall deep memories not yet lost can help people stay present and positive and feeling more like themselves. Reminiscence therapy using music is really beneficial for bringing up happy experiences and good feelings, which helps improve overall wellbeing.”

4. Music can help improve concentrate and focus

“When we’re listening to music or playing a musical instrument (even learning to play an instrument) it helps to focus the mind – it’s pretty hard to get distracted by thoughts or physical distractions when playing an instrument. Music’s ability to help us focus is really quite clever. When we hear music it activates both left and right brain at the same time – the activation of which can help maximise learning and help us remember. Many people find listening to classical music helpful to work or study to, probably because there aren’t distracting lyrics – but it’s very individual.

“There are some studies which suggest that listening to Mozart can help improve general intelligence, particularly among children. The ‘Mozart Effect’ sparked real public interest in the idea that listening to classical music can improve brain power. Various studies have looked to prove this but the jury’s still out about what’s so special about Mozart, or whether it’s simply classical music’s ability to help us feel calm yet alert.”

5. Music can aid a good night’s sleep

“Depending to what you listen to, music can be brilliant for relaxation and bringing about a sense of calm before you drift off to sleep – it’s really beneficial to help create a positive sleep environment, especially if you have trouble sleeping. Not only can listening to music help you fall asleep a lot quicker, it can also help improve the quality of sleep, meaning you’ll wake up less throughout the night.” Music can create alpha waves in the brain which help us feel more calm and relaxed. 

6. Music can boost physical performance

“Music has been shown (albeit anecdotally) to help improve physical activity – for the most part because it can be incredibly motivating. The more we’re into the music, the longer we want to listen and do whatever it is we’re doing to the music!

“Many athletes swear by their favourite beats to improve performance, push themselves a bit further or a bit faster, not to mention improve focus, but it’s very individual. Moving to music can be extremely beneficial, especially if you’re doing a repetitive workout involving weights and find a rhythm and tempo that helps you keep up with the reps. It’s also a great mood booster and helps supplement those endorphins you get from doing something physical. If you’ve got some household chores, such as cleaning or DIY, music can be a great motivator and help make your tasks feel a little less laborious.”

Singing to music!  

“I probably don’t need to say too much about the merits of a good sing along to your favourite tunes! It’s brilliant for releasing tension, relieving stress, improving confidence by reducing inhibitions, as well as getting those endorphins pumping around your body. And the best thing is, you don’t have to be good at it – it’s for everyone.”

Head over to the AXA Health Feelgood Health hub to find out why doing more of the things you love is beneficial for your health and wellbeing. Discover your Feelgood Health mindset and get content recommended just for you: www.axahealth.co.uk/feelgoodhealth 

Further Reading

The health benefits of dancing - AXA Health

Benefits & tips for exercising outdoors - AXA Health

Nature and mental health benefits - AXA Health

Health benefits of sleep - AXA Health

Sources

Trimble, M and Hesdorffer, D. (2017). BJPsych International. Music and the brain: the neuroscience of music and musical appreciation.

Jenkins, J. (2001). Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. The Mozart effect.

Thakare, A. et al. (2017). International Journal of Physiology, Pathophysiology and Pharmacology. Effect of music tempo on exercise performance and heart rate among young adults.

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