Music for the heart and the vascular system

July 6, 2009 by  

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heart_musicMusic can have power over us. The slow lullaby puts babies to sleep. The fast number perks us up to dance, and perform better during work out.

A research study by Italian researchers shows that music has a strong effect not only on our moods and emotions but on our cardiovascular system. In fact, our heart seems to go in sync with the music we are listening to.

The researchers looked at healthy whites aged 24 to 26 years old with and without previous musical training. The participants had to wear headphones and listened to the following:

Five random tracks of classical music were played – including selections from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; an aria from Puccini’s Turandot; a Bach cantata (BMW 169); Va Pensiero from Nabucco; Libiam Nei Lieti Calici from La Traviata – as well as two minutes of silence.

While listening, electrocardiogram (ECG), blood pressure, cerebral artery flow, respiration and narrowing of blood vessels on the skin of the study participants were monitored and recorded.

The effect of crescendos and descrescendos was especially monitored. Don’t worry. I am not music-literate myself so I looked it up. A crescendo is a gradual volume increase, and a decrescendo is a gradual volume decrease.

So here is how the volume changes the function of our cardiovascular system:

  • A crescendo results in vasoconstriction, e.g. narrowing of blood vessels under the skin, increased blood pressure and heart rate and increased respiration rate. Crescendos induce moderate arousal.
  • During the descrescendos down to the silent pause, the opposite effects were observed, e.g. vasodilation, lower blood pressure, heart and respiration rate. Descrescendos generally induce relaxation.

The effect of the volume change was proportional to the change in music profile.

According to lead researcher Dr. Luciano Bernardi, professor of Internal Medicine at Pavia University in Pavia, Italy.

“Music induces a continuous, dynamic – and to some extent predictable – change in the cardiovascular system. It is not only the emotion that creates the cardiovascular changes, but this study suggests that also the opposite might be possible, that cardiovascular changes may be the substrate for emotions, likely in a bi-directional way.”

So what does this tell us about music?

Music could be a potential therapeutic tool for cardiovascular diseases, e.g. blood pressure control, correction of abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias) and even rehabilitation of stroke patients.

Music therapy is used in many conditions including neurological impairments such as autism. In healthy people, studies have shown that music reduces stress and enhance athletic performance.

“The profile of music (crescendo or decrescendo) is continuously tracked by the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. This is particularly evident when music is rich in emphasis, like in operatic music. These findings increase our understanding of how music could be used in rehabilitative medicine.”

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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