How Music Affects Your Health: Classical Music Can Improve Your Well-Being and Your Brain
What Goes into Your Body Affects Your Health
Many of us would agree that what we eat and drink, what we put on our skin, and what we breathe all affects our health. Yet there is one area that almost everyone overlooks that can also have a major effect on your health--most of us pay absolutely no attention to how what sounds we listen to affect everything from our attention span to our vision. In other words, we should also pay just as much attention to what goes into our bodies through our ears!
Most people have heard of the Mozart effect, which was coined in the late 1950s by Alfred A. Tomatis, who noticed that playing the music of Mozart helped to improve the conditions of patients with certain health problems. The term was popularized by Don Campbell, who has turned the phenomenon into a major business. However, research is still going on into the Mozart effect, and papers are still being published in scientific, peer-reviewed clinical medical journals, month after month, and many of these papers go unnoticed and unreported by the mainstream media outlets.
Classical Music and Health: Four Hundred Abstracts Each Month
For the past several years, I have been reading (yes, I got that number right) four hundred abstracts each month from the peer-reviewed scientific literature, finding the best of them, and posting them on my blog, along with a commentary telling my readers how to interpret and use the information presented in each abstract. I won't go into details of the blog here; you can find the RSS feed for it below. What I am concerned about is that there is a growing body of evidence of the effects of classical music which my readers can use to directly manage their health in indirect ways. But in order to take advantage of the known scientific information, one has to know it's out there!
To date I have published on my blog almost two hundred studies on how classical music positively influences your health: research studies have focused on attention, Alzheimer's anxiety, asthma, brain function, COPD, epilepsy, high blood pressure, memory, mood, motor skills, pain, premature infants, relaxation, stress, even your vision! In fact, the list of health topics studied in these research papers is more than a page long!
Unfortunately, other types of music: rock, pop, rap, country-western, and jazz, do not have the same effect on your body--in fact, theym, may negatively influence your health, so just as it is important for your health not to eat junk food, so it is important for your health not to listen to the kinds of music that will cause your health to suffer. While many people claim that other types of music are good for you, too, the scientific evidence simply does does not bear out their claims. Based on scientific evidence alone, classical is the best overall music to listen to for your health.
The Easiest and Cheapest Change You Can Make that will Improve Your Health
Let's face it: lifestyle changes are extremely hard to implement, as anyone who has tried changing their diet, exercising, and all the rest of the things that people recommend to improve your health, can tell you. But this change is one of the easiest changes you will ever make--it just requires turning the dial on your radio to a different station. That's all. And then you can leave it there. Or you can even find a classical station online and listen for free! Yes, you may not like everything you hear, just as most of us would prefer chocolate for dinner instead of broccoli. But learning how to listen to the classical repertoire will help, and the effects are unmistakable, and almost immediate, and last for weeks afterwards. Imagine if you could get that kind of result from the treadmill or the gym!
Okay, if you can't stand the way it sounds, I have a secret for you. You don't have to turn up the radio loud enough to hear it, simply play it at a very low volume. You don't have to hear it for it to work. In fact, as shown in studies with grapevines, simple life forms such as flatworms, and countless other studies, to get the benefit, you don't even have to have ears!
Imagine this: you have the symptoms of high blood pressure. You know if you go to the doctor, you will be taking blood-pressure medication, your insurance rates will go up, you will have side effects from the medication, and have to keep going to the doctor. Now while I'm not suggesting that anyone not see their doctor, what if you could avoid all this all together, simply by listening to the classical genre: one that has been proven in peer-reviewed clinical studies, over and over, to reduce your blood pressure? Then you could avoid all the doctors' visits, medications, insurance-rate hikes, and all the rest. How easy is that? One flick of your wrist, you are listening to a classical station, and saving thousands of dollars simply by a tiny bit of preventive medicine!
Another Way to Determine Your Health
If you've already made decisions to live a healthy lifestyle, such as exercising, healthy eating or organic eating, switching to nontoxic cleaners and cosmetics, and similar decisions, changing your listening habits should be next on your list. This change non-invasive, you can do it anywhere at any time, and the results are so dramatic (in some studies it takes just minutes before changes in the brain are apparent on an fMRI) that it just makes sense to make this simple change a part of a healthy lifestyle.
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Recommended Classical Music
Murray Perahia is one of the great Mozart interpreters.
More than Just Your Health
Different types of music have been found to turn off and on genes in the brain. This means that what you're listening to could directly affect your thinking, your decision-making, your test-taking and study skills, and more. Where to eat for dinner may not be that important a choice--but when you are making decisions that involve your finances, or your family's well-being, you may want to consider whether you are making good choices in your music, and consider switching to classical.
Not All Classical Music is Created Equal
Unfortunately, the decision is not as easy as going out and getting a CD of The World's Most Relaxing Classical Music (although there's nothing wrong with that). If you're really going to listen to classical composers for your health, you need to have a clear understanding of what classical music is, and what kind is best to listen to, according to the research studies. If you've read this far, you know that more information will help you make the correct decisions to choose your music wisely. If you're listening to classical music for your health, make sure you get the results you want--read the research and decide which compositions you need to listen to!
Learn to Play Classical Music Yourself!
If your goal is to spend your time in healthy pursuits, the research studies make it clear that one of the most productive ways to spend your time is in learning to play piano or another instrument for yourself. The healthy effects of learning to play classical music on an instrument persist even for many years after you stop playing.
Anecdotal, but . . .
I have a friend who has the equipment for scanning EEGs. After being hooked up to his equipment and monitored for some time, he determined that my brain waves (alpha, beta, delta, theta, etc.) were in almost ideal balance. In addition, the right and left halves of my brain were equally active, communicating extremely well, and well-balanced (that is, the ratio of all the brain waves was the same, within statistical error, in both halves). I scored very low on factors that indicate anxiety, depression, or any other problems, and, given a task that I was previously unfamiliar with, my brain was able to learn the task and adapt very quickly.
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