Music for your Health?

We already discussed how music can exacerbate a tense situation or cocoon us during rough times, but can it really help heal our bodies as well as our spirits?

Many think it can.

I had a roommate who was a classical guitar composition major at FSU. I remember when I first moved in he asked if it would bother me if he practiced in the living room. Uh, not unless me listening would be a problem for you! I mean, really, twist my arm, here. But one of the summers I lived in that cute little house in a bad neighborhood (it helped that the roommate and his brother were both former Marines–instant safety boost!), Sam went up to Atlanta to work with a family friend who dealt in alternative therapies for cancer patients.

While this Cracked.com article is what started this train of thought (see what I mean about synchronicity?), it’s high on snark (nothing wrong with that) but a little shy on references. So I decided to do a little digging to see what I could come up with.

Music Therapy appears to be a growing industry–you can get degrees in it at Berklee College of Music or through FSU’s College of Music (and, I’m sure, others–those were just the first couple to pop up). Some still consider it a very alternative method of wellness-care and healing while others consider it one of many treatments that can not only improve mood but, as mood is tied to overall improvement, also improve the effectiveness of traditional treatments, like my roommate’s friend.

Okay, that’s high-level, doctor’s-type music therapy, but what about at home, recreational music therapy?

I know I benefit from having music on, it helps me to focus–usually. See, music choice is key to effective therapy. Like when I have a mountain of data entry to get through at work (possibly the most boring part of my job) I can usually power through it if I’ve got some fun power rock going on in the background (80s/90s hair bands being my rock of choice). And let’s just say that my Bejeweled Blitz score tends to be much higher when I’m listening to up-tempo music  (as this 2006 memo from Stanford would seem to predict is true for many).

At the same time, going back to the idea of fragility, some days that same fun, rocking music has the opposite effect, practically stultifying any sense of productivity or focus. During those times it’s beneficial to listen to more soothing music, say some of that New Age piano or a meditative CD, to reduce the stress hormones coursing through our bodies. Those same, dulcet tunes have also been shown to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, pain sensitivity and even the urge to scratch and itchy rash or skin disorder!

So, I guess the next time I have to go a week without Zyrtec for one of those annoying-but-necessary tests, I should keep my iPod close at hand!

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