The Amazing Power of Music Revealed

music, exerciseMore than 7,000 runners who recently raced in a half-marathon in London were under the influence of a powerful performance-enhancing stimulant -- pop music.

The music at London's "Run to the Beat" race was selected on the basis of the research and consultation of sport psychologist Costas Karageorghis. He has learned how to devise soundtracks that are just as powerful, if not more so, as some of the less legal substances that athletes commonly take to excel.

The link between music and athletic performance is just one example of the inroads scientists and doctors are making into understanding the amazing power that music has over your mind and body. Science has shown that music really can kill pain, reduce stress, better your brain and basically change how you experience life.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Listening to music is a great way to make exercising more enjoyable. MP3 players are an excellent way to do this. But as science is now beginning to document, music may have a much greater impact on your health than previously imagined.

Exercising to Music Can Boost Your Verbal Skills

For example, while studies have shown that exercising alone has the capability to improve your mood and increase the speed of your decision-making process, listening to music while exercising has been shown to improve verbal fluency as well.

A 2003 study published in the journal Heart Lung found that listening to music while exercising boosted cognitive levels and verbal fluency skills in people diagnosed with coronary artery disease.

Coronary artery disease has been linked to a decline in cognitive abilities. In this study, signs of improvement in the verbal fluency areas more than doubled after listening to music compared to that of the non-music session.

Music Reduces Stress and Improves Healing 

Music is a great mood regulator, whether it’s used in conjunction with exercise or not. Loud, upbeat music generally has a stimulating effect, whereas slow music can act as a sedative.

It’s very encouraging that more and more health professionals are beginning to realize the value of simple techniques such as music, using it as an adjunct to promote healing even in more conventional medical settings. As pediatrician Linda Fisher stated in the article above, it’s the music’s rhythm, melody and tonal quality that puts the patient in that “special place of peace” where healing can be achieved faster.

For example, harp music might be particularly helpful for people who have heart trouble. Harvard researchers have shown that the rhythms of healthy hearts may be similar to those found in classical music, and that certain rhythms, such as that of harp music can cause your heart to beat more normally.

Other studies from the early 1990s concluded that music significantly lowered the heart rates and calmed and regulated the blood pressures and respiration rates of patients who had undergone surgery.

Music therapy has also been shown to:

  • Improve motor skills in patients recovering from strokes
  • Boost your immune system
  • Improve mental focus
  • Help control pain
  • Create a feeling of well-being
  • Reduce anxiety

One study published in the October issue of The Journal of Clinical Nursing found that pregnant women listening to soothing music showed significant reductions in stress, anxiety and depression.

The researchers concluded that,  

“The findings can be used to encourage pregnant women to use this cost-effective method of music in their daily life to reduce their stress, anxiety and depression.”

Just more evidence that some of the simplest things in the world can benefit your health in profound ways.

Since depression, general stress and anxiety are very common issues facing many pregnant women, this is excellent advice, especially in light of the ever increasing use of antidepressant drugs during pregnancy. Although some studies claim that using antidepressants during pregnancy does not raise your risk of having a baby with birth defects, others have shown that they can cause severe rebound effects in your baby.   

Clearly drugs are rarely the best choice for pregnant women who are depressed. There are so many better options – music being one of them.

In addition to various types of music, like classical, nature sounds such as birds, rainstorms, frogs or ocean waves are also often used as a stress-relief tool. The sounds have a calming effect and can help patients relax while undergoing medical procedures.

Another exceptional, and more scientific, tool to help you dramatically reduce the stress that is a prime contributor to all forms of disease, while maximizing your awareness and potential for growth, is the Insight audio CD.  Many of the patients at my clinic have received enormous benefits from it. Layered beneath the soothing sounds of natural rain is a “binaural beat,” which can help you achieve dramatically powerful states of altered consciousness.

How Can Your Workout Benefit From Music?

As stated earlier, exercising to music has more benefits than just making your workout more fun. As sport psychologist Costas Karageorghis explained, listening to music while working out can:

  1. Reduce your perception of how hard you are working by about 10 percent during low-to-moderate intensity activity.
  2. Profoundly influence your mood; elevating the positive aspects, such as vigor, excitement and happiness, and reducing depression, tension, fatigue, anger and confusion.
  3. Be used to set an appropriate warm-up, workout, and cool-down pace.
  4. Be used to overcome fatigue, and control your emotions if you’re in a competition.

According to Karageorghis' research, music is most effective when you are losing steam and need some motivation to keep going -- not as a constant stimulus. He recommends doing two workouts with music to every one without, so the effect of the music is not dulled.

Committing yourself to a regular exercise routine is just as important as following a nutritious eating program. Taking into consideration these positive benefits from music and exercising, I would encourage those working out at their local gyms to add a little music to their workout routine.

How I Listen to Music

There are many ways you can listen to music. In my mind, the 21st century way is not to purchase music at all but merely to rent it. There are many services available but the one I use is Rhapsody.  For well under $200 a year you can download as many as you want of the over 4 million songs available.

This is typically far less than you would pay to purchase them, and you can transfer them to your MP3 player to listen to them offline.  You can also use the most incredible, inexpensive system to stream the music to your home stereo system with Sonos.

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