Prescription With Pleasure: The Healing Power of Music

Music has long been recognized for its therapeutic value. Aeons ago, David was summoned to play for King Saul to help chase away his majesty's "evil spirits." Today, music is known for its ability to affect mood, trigger memories and foster loving associations.

But did you know that certain forms of music — particularly classical and baroque — can help you tap into your own innate ability to heal your heart?

It's for this reason that many healthcare practitioners, cardiologists included, have begun turning to the power of music. Increasingly, they have come to believe that the melody, pitch, timing and beat of music can alter a patient's state of being by quieting his body and allowing him to enter the spiritual recesses of his mind.

Sound heavy? Maybe so. But calming, soothing music is considered one of the ultimate mind-body tools. "No question about it, music is a very powerful way to connect the mind and the body. And when they're connected, the real process of healing begins," says Stephen Sinatra, M.D., a cardiologist at the New England Heart & Longevity Center in Manchester, Conn., who is a firm believer in the mind-body connection.

"Music can be like meditation," explains Sinatra. "Some people who practice yoga, for example, will put on soft music. Massage therapists will always put on music. So whether you're doing yoga or meditating, the music in itself can have a favorable influence on your blood pressure."

That means lowering your blood pressure. In fact, research shows that music can help lower heart beat and blood pressure by reducing the stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol.

What the Studies Show

"From a psychological evaluation, we found that classical music tends to cause comfort. This is because the sympathetic nerve is suppressed by the sound of classical music," noted Dr. Umemura Honda, in a 1998 medical journal article entitled, "Influence of music on heart rate variability and comfort — a consideration through comparison of music and noise". On the other hand, "rock music and noise tend to cause discomfort," he said.

Music also was found to reduce stress in patients undergoing cerebral angiography. In a study of 30 patients, two German doctors from Hannover Medical School's Department of Neuroradiology monitored stress hormones, blood pressure and heart beat. They found that the patients who were not exposed to music "showed rising levels of cortisol in their blood, indicating high stress levels, while cortisol in patients examined with music remained stable. Blood pressure was significantly lower listening to music." What's more, patients with a high level of fear did appear to benefit particularly from the music," the doctors noted.