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Music linked to heart health, studies say

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Published:   |   Updated: February 21, 2014 at 05:35 PM

TRINITY — The beat of your heart may be more closely related to musical beats than you realize.

In a lecture titled “Heart and Soul” at the Medical Center of Trinity, interventional cardiologist Carlos Bayron spoke about the impact music can have on heart health, whether it’s speeding up or slowing down your pulse.

“Your favorite songs don’t just make you tap your foot or boost your mood,” Bayron said. “Music has a powerful influence on a listener’s heart rate. If you have ever felt a surge of energy when your favorite upbeat song comes on the radio, or if you listen to slow music to relax, the emotions you experience are directly linked to what music does to your heart rate.”

Throughout the lecture, Bayron cited several research studies from all over the world whose findings supported the link between heart health and music.

Researchers at the University of Maryland found that when people listened to music that made them feel good, they had better blood flow, which is good for your heart and blood vessels.

A study by Luciano Bernardi at the University of Pavia, featured in Scientific American, found that the heart rates of volunteers sped in response to musical crescendos, synchronizing with the music. Even if the listener disliked a song, her pulse changed to match the tempo of the music.

Musicians have the most pronounced reaction to music, as more than one study, including Bernardi’s, have shown. Peter Sleight at the University of Oxford suggests this is due to their musical training; not only are they more in tune with music, they have also learned to breathe in rhythm to this music and their heart rates match their respiration.

In response to these studies, several companies have released devices and smartphone apps that integrate music into a workout. Some even track the body’s physical response to the exercise.

In 2010, Philips released a MP3 player called Activa that matches music to heart rate during workouts. Fast-paced music that increases a listener’s heart rate means increased blood flow throughout the body, helping exercisers warm up and reach their target pulse more quickly, according to a study published in “The Sport Journal.” Later, listening to meditative music helps lower the pulse as exercisers cool down.

Music affects not only the exerciser and the musician, but can aid in the recovery of those affect by stroke and certain diseases.

“After a stroke, people who listened daily to their favorite music remembered more, could focus better, and were less depressed and confused than those who hadn’t, one study shows,” Bayron said. “The reason isn’t clear but one possibility is that listening to music involves several parts of the brain.”

If you have Parkinson’s disease, you may have slurred or unclear speech because of breathing problems or trouble moving your mouth or tongue.

“Through music therapy, you can learn how to ‘sing’ words and hold single syllables to get better breath support,” Bayron said. “If you focus on the rhythm of a piece of music, it might help you walk or move better. Music can also slow down your body when its overactive.”

For thousands of years, other cultures have understand the significance of music as it relates to health, Bayron said. The kanji character for “medicine” in Japanese also includes the character for music. In Greece, music in used to ease stress, promote sleep and soothe pain. Many Native American and African tribes incorporate singing and chanting into their healing rituals.

So why are we just now hearing about it here? Bayron said that for the 25 years he’s been practicing medicine, doctors have used relaxing music in examination rooms, post-surgery rooms and more, but over time doctors have understood more clearly that it often takes more than medication to make a patient better. It involves controlling the environment around them, too.

You can follow Daylina Miller on Twitter at @DaylinaMiller.

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