Does Music Have Health-Boosting Power?

Adding music to your day may promote well-being.

ear buds, mp3 player

Updated on October 25, 2022.

In addition to being just plain fun, did you know that music may be good for your health? In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report advocating for music and the arts in supporting health and managing illness in people of all ages.

Many studies suggest that music may have a wide range of benefits, such as soothing stress, improving sleep, and promoting health and wellness. An analysis of 26 studies found that various types of music—including classical, gospel, jazz, relaxation, and vocal music—were associated with significant improvements in health-related quality of life in healthy older people and those with medical illness. The study was published in JAMA Network Open in 2022.

Of course, everyone has their own preferences and ways of enjoying music, so what may apply to research subjects may not be relevant for everyone. That said, here's how you might benefit from music if it works for your lifestyle. 

Music’s effects on mood, stress, and sleep

A number of studies suggest that music—whether you’re making it or even just listening to it—may improve your mood, decrease anxiety, and stress, and help you sleep better.

In one 2021 study published in PLoS One, researchers used an online survey during the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic to see how people on three different continents used music to feel better while in quarantine. They found that listening to music was associated with better emotional regulation and was a strong predictor of well-being during COVID-19.

While people’s experiences may differ, music can induce pleasurable emotions and distract from negative ones, as well as providing relaxation, social comfort, or catharsis. Listening to music may activate parts of the brain involved in the release of dopamine, the chemical that’s involved in pleasure, reward, and motivation. Music has also been associated with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well increased levels of endorphins. Endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers that are responsible for the “runner’s high” that exercisers often experience.

Research also supports why winding down to music at bedtime may improve your sleep. An analysis of 13 studies published in 2022 by Cochrane found that listening to recorded music for 25 to 60 minutes every day was associated with significantly better sleep quality in adults with insomnia, compared to not listening to music.

Music and heart health

Knowledge about music’s positive effects on physical health—especially cardiovascular health—may date back centuries. Music can either stimulate or dampen the autonomic nervous system, which regulates body processes like heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion. Research suggests that slower-tempo music may help to reduce the stress response and lower heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. 

In one German study published in 2016, researchers looked at the effects of listening to 25 minutes of a Mozart symphony, waltzes by Johann Strauss, and pop music by ABBA. Listening to classical music, but not to ABBA, was associated with a significant drop in heart rate and blood pressure. The music of Mozart was associated with the biggest drop—almost 5 mm Hg—in systolic blood pressure (the top number of your blood pressure reading).

It's known as the Mozart Effect. Along with lower blood pressure, listening to Mozart has been tied to improvements in relaxation, learning, and cognitive performance. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why. Some think it might have to do with the regular repetition of melodies throughout his music. Listening to the music of Bach has also been associated with stress reduction.   

Music as medicine

For most of recorded history, music has been used in treating illness. Around 400 BC, Hippocrates (known as the father of medicine), prescribed music for his patients. These days, music is used as a supplement to medical therapy to improve a range of conditions. As a form of complementary medicine, music therapy can help treat illness by lessening pain, promoting rehabilitation, and improving communication, expression of feelings, and memory.

According to the WHO, music therapy may provide added benefits in a wide range of people, including those experiencing:

  • Dementia, cognitive decline, and frailty
  • Mental illness
  • Hospitalization or surgery
  • Neurological disorders, like autism, Parkinson disease, and cerebral palsy
  • Stroke rehabilitation
  • Cancer treatment and end-of-life care
  • Diabetes and cardiovascular disease

Note that deaf people and people with varying degrees of hearing loss can experience these benefits as well. Deafness is a spectrum and even if someone is profoundly deaf, they can still have access to and enjoy music in a more physical way than auditorily, such as by way of the vibrations of music. 

The enduring power of music

What explains music’s healing power? While scientists search for the answers, you don’t have to wait to enjoy it. Music is something you can add to your daily routine and it just may soothe your soul and be good for your health.

No lesser of an expert than singer Billy Joel may have said it best: “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”

Or as the Beach Boys sang in 1970: “Your doctor knows it keeps you calm / Your preacher adds it to his psalms / So add some music / To your day.”

Article sources open article sources

Fancourt D, Finn S. What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2019.
McCrary JM, Altenmüller E, Kretschmer C, et al. Association of Music Interventions With Health-Related Quality of Life: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open. 2022 Mar 1;5(3):e223236.
Hennessy S, Sachs M, Kaplan J, et al. Music and mood regulation during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. PLoS One. 2021 Oct 20;16(10):e0258027.
Ferreri L, Mas-Herrero E, Cardona G, et al. Dopamine modulations of reward-driven music memory consolidation. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2021 Oct;1502(1):85-98.
Finn S, Fancourt D. The biological impact of listening to music in clinical and nonclinical settings: A systematic review. Prog Brain Res. 2018;237:173-200.
Laeng B, Garvija L, Løseth G, et al. 'Defrosting' music chills with naltrexone: The role of endogenous opioids for the intensity of musical pleasure. Conscious Cogn. 2021 Apr;90:103-105.
Tarr B, Launay J, Dunbar RI. Music and social bonding: "self-other" merging and neurohormonal mechanisms. Front Psychol. 2014 Sep 30;5:1096.
Jespersen KV, Pando-Naude V, Koenig J, et al. Listening to music for insomnia in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2022 Aug 24;8(8):CD010459.
Kulinski J, Ofori EK, Visotcky A, et al. Effects of music on the cardiovascular system. Trends Cardiovasc Med. 2022 Aug;32(6):390-398.
Trappe HJ, Voit G. The Cardiovascular Effect of Musical Genres. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2016 May 20;113(20):347-52.
Jenkins JS. The Mozart effect. J R Soc Med. 2001 Apr;94(4):170-2.
Pauwels EK, Volterrani D, Mariani G, et al. Mozart, music and medicine. Med Princ Pract. 2014;23(5):403-12.
Smith JC, Joyce CA. Mozart versus new age music: relaxation states, stress, and ABC relaxation theory. J Music Ther. 2004 Fall;41(3):215-24.
Hughes JR, Fino JJ. The Mozart effect: distinctive aspects of the music--a clue to brain coding? Clin Electroencephalogr. 2000 Apr;31(2):94-103.
Bernardi L, Porta C, Casucci G, et al. Dynamic interactions between musical, cardiovascular, and cerebral rhythms in humans. Circulation. 2009 Jun 30;119(25):3171-80.
Balbikian T, Goodarzi L, Tachdjian V, et al. Music as Medicine. A Review and Historical Perspective. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 2013; 19(5): 251-254.

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