Could Listening to Music Really Improve Your Health?
More proof that music can heal
Here’s one more reason to rock out: music isn’t just good for the soul, it’s good for the body. Patients who listen to music before, during, and after surgery may have less pain, anxiety, and blood pressure than patients who don’t, a new analysis suggests.
Surgery patients who got to pick their own playlists faired even better, researchers found.
Dr. Diana Vetter, of the University of Zurich, and her colleagues analyzed data from 47 studies, 26 of which examined the effect of music before surgery, 25 that looked at music in the operating room and 25 that studied music during recovery. The team found that, over all, music was linked to about 31% less pain, 29% lower odds of needed pain medication and 34% less anxiety. 
In addition, patients who listened to music had 40% lower blood pressure and 27% lower heart rate.
Patients that had the benefit of listening to their own choice of tunes sometimes showed even more promising results, though there wasn’t much difference in heart rate or blood pressure based on whether patients chose their own music or listened to music chosen by the researchers.
Allowing patients to listen to music before and after surgery certainly can’t hurt, and the findings only add to a growing body of evidence that suggests music interventions calm patients and assist with healing. Furthermore, many surgeons already listen to tunes while they operate.
“Music interventions are not yet part of the system because for an intervention to be formally adapted in medicine and hospitals, efficacy needs to be shown,” Marianne van der Heijden, a researcher at Erasmus Medical Center – Sophia Children’s Hospital in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. She added, “There now seems to be enough evidence to support the formal adaptation of music interventions in clinical guidelines.”
“Self-selected music interventions shouldn’t be difficult to provide at all and could be realized by creating awareness among hospital staff, patients and their family members about the positive effects of music,” van der Heijden added. 
The analysis’ only shortcoming is the fact that it might give fairly conservative effect estimates because the earlier studies tended to overestimate effects or were published with “spectacular” findings. Researchers looked at studies conducted in the last 15 years. 
The team had also hoped to measure the effect of architecture, design and art on surgical outcomes, but there were too few studies to assess this.
Music has been linked to a wide variety of health benefits, including improved immunity. One study conducted by the Max Planck Institute showed that listening to music for just under an hour could help change the number of antibodies in the body. It didn’t matter what type of music participants listened to, either, which suggests that Metallica is just as good for people as Mozart (depending on your taste).
Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients have also been shown to respond favorably to music. In one study, patients with severe to moderate dementia “did particularly well singing show tunes from movies and musicals such as ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Oklahoma!’ in group settings and had a marked improvement in their remembering skills versus those who simply listened during the sing-alongs.”
And music has also been shown to lower cortisol, a primary stress hormone that makes us feel angry, tired or frustrated.
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.