The famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said that “without music, life would be a mistake”. Nietzsche’s statement was in no way an exaggeration.
In the last few decades, neuroscientists have made an enormous breakthrough in understanding how our brains work by monitoring people’s brains in real time with instruments like fMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (Positron emission tomography) scanners. What they found is that multiple areas of our brains are lighting up at once when we process a sound.
Most of the times, the musical signals our brain receives are turned in positive messages transmitted to different parts of our body. However, more than simply improving the way we feel, science has demonstrated that music can have a great impact on our organizational skills, creativity or productivity. Without further ado, here are 11 health benefits (backed by science) of listening to music.
1. Listening to music releases dopamine, a “feel-good” chemical
In 2011, A study was conducted by researchers at McGill University in Canada. Over 200 participants were subjects to tests which aimed at determining the way human beings respond to the simple act of listening to music.
With the combination of both PET (positron emission tomography) fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imagining) and a questionnaire about how patients felt about the music they listened to, the PET scan showed that dopamine was released during peak moments of emotional arousal when listening to music.
Dopamine is an organic chemical produced by every human body. It is known to produce a feel-good state in response to various stimulants. These can range from eating sweets, having sex or taking drugs. Dopamine is also associated with less verifiable stimuli – such as being in love.
2. There are only a few activities in life that utilize the entire brain, playing music is one of them.
Playing an instrument is a complex and rewarding experience. Integrating information from senses like vision, hearing, and touch, along with fine movements activate almost all the parts of your brain.
In 2014, Anita Collins from TED-Ed demonstrated that whilst listening to music engages the brain in some pretty interesting activities, playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full body workout. According to neuroscientists, simultaneously processing different information in intricate, interrelated and extremely fast sequences activate multiple areas in our brain.
The specific parts of our brain which are solicited when we play an instrument are the visual, auditory and motor cortices. As with any other workout, disciplined and structured practice in playing music strengthens those brain functions. The acquisition of these strengths in the music-playing department allows us to apply them in other areas of our lives to strengthen alternate activities.
VIDEO: “How playing an instrument benefits your brain”
3. Playing music regularly will physically alter your brain structure.
Playing music requires fine motor skills. These skills can be found in the two hemispheres present in our brain. Playing music is said to combine at the same time, the linguistic and mathematical competences of the left hemisphere, and the novel and creative content of the right hemisphere.
Therefore, playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity in the brain’s corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres, allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes. In other words, the pathways of communication between areas of the brain are more comprehensively connected together through the process of playing an instrument.
The very plasticity of the brain, the way it shapes itself, permits this metamorphosis. Moreover, regular participation in musical activities also aids the creation of new synaptic pathways, enabling multitasking and general creative thought, promoting cognitive development and helping the elaboration of abstract thought processes.
4. The brain responds to music the same way it responds to something you enjoy eating
Much like when eating your favorite pizza or chocolate cake, music will make you feel satisfied. Dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical is activated when you eat something you appreciate but also when you listen or make music.
In a sense, these chemicals are rewarding for your brain, and anything which is rewarding makes you feel good as a whole.
5. Listening to music while exercising can significantly improve your workout performance.
According to science, silence doesn’t help us when it comes to creativity or drive. Moreover, silence doesn’t help use exercising either. If you see everyone wearing a pair of headphones at your local gym or enjoying the music that is played there, it is probably because music acts as a substitute for brain fatigue.
When your body starts to get tired and wants to stop exercising by sending signals to your brain to stop; listening to music will compete to grab our brain’s attention and help you override the signals of fatigue.
Therefore, music helps us go longer through the pain to exercise longer and harder by channeling our energy more efficiently. Here, we would recommend creating a work out playlist which will motivate you and make you achieve more when exercising. See the results by yourself.
6. Ambient (and not loud) music increases creativity
You might think that powering up the music will have a direct stimulating effect on your brain. However, you can’t be further from the truth when you want to be creative. The music you listen to when working on a creative endeavor should be at an ambient or moderate noise level. Why is this the case?
When you listen to music at a moderate level, it lets you be creative without preventing you from getting your work done as high levels of noise would do.
The process which takes place is that the moderate noise levels will increase the processing difficulty which will promote abstract processing thereby leading to higher creativity.
7. Music training can significantly improve our motor and reasoning skills
Children that have learned to master an instrument display more advanced competencies in certain areas. These include more advanced vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills, which involve understanding and analyzing visual information, such as identifying relationships, similarities, and differences between shapes and patterns.
It is common for musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively in both academic and social settings. The art of music also implies crafting and understanding its emotional content and message.
Therefore, musicians often have higher levels of executive functions, a category of interlinked tasks that includes planning, strategizing and attention to detail and requires simultaneous analysis of both cognitive and emotional aspects. Finally, musicians exhibit enhanced memory functions, creating, storing and retrieving memories more quickly and efficiently.
8. Classical music can improve visual attention
Musical training doesn’t just benefit kids. Multiple studies have shown that listening to classical music can improve visual attention.
When revising for an exam, or writing this really long and seemingly interminable essay, it can prove to be very efficient to listen to classical music.
In this case, Beethoven’s and Chopin’s compositions affect senses and abilities. In itself, that already proves to be fascinating as it demonstrates that our brain is a person in itself.
9. Reduces Depression & Anxiety
Music can have positive effects on the psyche, mood, pain, and quality of life. Researchers at Drexel University (report) have found that cancer patients who listened to music or worked with a music therapist have experienced a reduction in anxiety and blood pressure levels. This music therapy also helped to improve their moods.
10. Boosts Your Immune System & Reduces Pain
Music is capable to reduce the levels of stress hormone (cortisol) which is responsible to weaken the immune system by increasing the risk of heart disease, lowering the bone density, interfering with learning and memory, blood pressure, etc.
As per a research, it was found that listening to music for 50 minutes will uplift the levels of antibodies in the human body.
11. Improves Sleep Quality
Stress and anxiety are some common things that interfere with sleep. Music has the ability to affect the stress and anxiety in a positive way and this will promote better sleep patterns by creating more restful sleep for people.
These are only some of the benefits of music on our health. In the years and decades to come, science may discover other gains. However, up until now, research about the mental benefits of playing music has advanced our understanding of mental function, revealing the inner rhythms and complex interplay, that make up the amazing orchestra of our brain. For some, music seems to play a very important in their life’s. Others should take the example given the numerous benefits music has for our health and functioning as a human being.