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How Music Affects Your Health: Classical Music Can Improve Your Well-Being and Your Brain

I was a neuroscience major before I was a music major, so I keep up on all the latest research.

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 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 can make you healthier!

Classical music can make you healthier!

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 collected citations for 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!

So What?

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.

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.


Sweet Chococarrie from My Heart To Yours on May 24, 2012:

Very well explained about how music affects our health, i did enjoyed reading it from top to bottom, i do agree with you above 100% about this very good suggestions you wrote, for i myself is on it over addicted, the very kind of music that keeps my whole self free from everything are the ones i always love to play and keep on playing all the time and yes i had a lot of instrumental classical music, i did tried many times too to be online with real classical music and it is very nice to learn each of them and stay with them and see which fits my soul, i enjoyed a lot of them till now and yes i never stop collecting beautiful relaxing music everytime i come across on one or two sure i will keep a copy for myself and just be with it the whole day till my eyes goes to sleep it is very helpful for one's self therapy for keeping you with the beauty of music and what magic it really brings when everytime you play classical music. Very nice hub indeed, Best Regards Dear Classical Geek

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on May 14, 2011:

I believe this to be true. I'm a composer and pianist myself. Likewise can be said about great literature (Kierkegaard, Kafka, etc....), you read James Joyce and you're bound to become more aware of the world around you....

classicalgeek (author) on July 13, 2010:

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You would think that it would be individualized, and to some degree it might be, but as with things like fresh air and exercise, classical music seems to do everyone some good. And yes, as your musical expertise grows, you get more out of it, and tire sooner, which is why amateurs can play a sport all day, and professionals can play for only a limited time (I often compare learning to play music to learning to play a sport).

daddyjb from North Carolina on July 13, 2010:

I love this topic! Sorry to be stalking you this morning, classicalgeek.

It's fascinating the research that is being done on what specific classical music is best for our health. It seems like what is best would have something to do with our individual makeup. Biology, environment, education, age, etc. will determine how we hear and interpret the music we're listening to. I love to listen to and play Baroque keyboard music, but after an extended period of 4 voice counterpoint, my brain is tired! Someone else who isn't actively listening to the counterpoint will have a different experience.

I'm going to check out your blog.

JadeDragon@innovativepassiveincome on April 17, 2010:

I just linked to this hub from my blog.

TLMinut on April 10, 2010:

I wasn't claiming you suggested these videos, it's just that the idea for them was based on this (previous) research. It surprised me to start hearing that it wasn't true since I'd seen the results myself about music. Now you have even more and current research that still confirms it - it was just confusing to see that Disney accepted that it doesn't work. Who knows, the deal with Disney is all about legalese and $$ so truth may have nothing to do with it.

I will be heading to your blog to read more on this.

classicalgeek (author) on April 10, 2010:

I am confused. I have never suggested the "Baby Einstein" or any of those videos to parents.

However, if you read the studies in the medical journals that I have posted on my blog, where I take abstracts from the actual articles, you will see that in clinical, peer-reviewed studies classical music lessons change the brain in ways that show up on a MRI in as little as twenty minutes.

Exposure to classical music in utero and in the first months of life does have a significant effect on brain development; I have no idea what the "Baby Einstein" makers claimed but it is pretty clear from what I have read that video is not as productive as interaction with real human beings.

TLMinut on April 10, 2010:

But then why is Disney refunding parents for the Baby Einstein videos that claimed this works?

(Though I noticed there are links for all but the Mozart videos in the article, maybe they're exempt.)

This morning I read an article in Science News that videos don't work for children younger than three, maybe that's all it's about. I know that my son was helped enormously when he was about 8 in a myriad of ways after starting to play piano - he loved classical music.

Pamela on March 19, 2010:

Wonderful information! Thanks for sharing it!

jtstunner on February 24, 2010:

Fantastic hub, I like the idea that ailments can be cured by positive influences,great job.

classicalgeek (author) on February 24, 2010:

We're still at the threshold of the research. Although comparison studies (I just posted an abstract of this today on my blog) have been done between different pieces of music, for example, Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos K. 448, and Beethoven's "Für Elise," there is just not enough research done yet to suggest a specific piece of music yet as a remedy for a specific condition. However, I will say that most of the studies already performed involved Baroque music of various composers, as well as the previously-mentioned Mozart sonata. It's like being on the edge of the discovery of any other major medical breakthrough, and no-one knows yet where it will lead, or how many of our assumptions about this right now are wrong--but it's one heck of a thrill ride if you're into classical music and neuroscience!

Aya Katz from The Ozarks on February 24, 2010:

ClassicalGeek, that's an interesting concept there. If not all classical music is the same for purposes of maintaining good health, is it true that any two composers, or even any two pieces by the same composer, can be rated for their health effects? Who is better for our health: Beethoven or Mozart? Of Mozart's compositions, which is healthier to listen to: Piano Concerto No. 24 or Symphony No. 25? How about Leck Mich im Arsch? What factors come into play in determining the health effects of a musical piece?

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