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Music: Could it be medicine for the mind and body?

Written by Diane Archer

Some people relax to Mozart and others to the Mamas and the Papas.  Whatever your beat, music may improve your well-being. Several studies suggest that it may be medicine for the mind and body.  Indeed, mounting and promising research shows that music can improve health outcomes for people with depression, pain and Parkinson’s. That said, we have a lot still to learn about music and its neurochemical effects on people.

A 2013 paper by Mona Chanda and David Levitin looks at the evidence on whether music improves health  — increasing pleasure, decreasing stress, protecting against disease, managing pain. The authors find the evidence too weak to draw any firm conclusions, partly because of the way studies have been structured. At the same time, the studies do show that people experience neurochemical changes from music that bear on health.

For example, people report experiencing terrific enjoyment as well as other positive emotions as a reason they listen to music. Many people find it one of life’s greatest pleasures. And others report that listening to music reduces the need for drugs to relieve pain post surgery. Still others have found that “relaxing music”–no lyrics, slow–lowers the level of stress and anxiety in healthy patients.

For sure, we have a lot more research to do. In 2004, Cochrane found that the evidence neither supports nor speaks against music therapy in the care of older adults with dementia. In 2008, Cochrane reported that a small sample of randomized trials found that music therapy improved the mood of people with depressionbut the quality of the studies was not good enough to draw any firm conclusions. In 2015, Cochrane looked at five studies with findings that listening to music improved sleep quality, but the evidence was only of moderate quality. The sample size was not big enough and the quality of the studies not high enough to draw any firm conclusions about the efficacy of music therapy.

The question of whether music really is medicine is still up for grabs. But, for sure, many people say they feel better when they listen to music, and several studies support the healing power of music.

In short, there’s every reason to make music a part of our lives. The great thing about listening to music you enjoy as a treatment is that it is noninvasive, low cost, easy to access, with seemingly only positive side effects.

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