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Music therapy: Using sick beats to make you better

3 minute read

If you ever needed an excuse to keep up the karaoke and upgrade your Spotify subscription, this is it; Music therapy could not only be good for your health, but one day, you might even find yourself listening to a tune or two during surgery to help your recovery.

Most of us draw on the positive effects of music on a daily basis to calm our minds and soothe our bodies. And it has long been used for its therapeutic benefits in a range of health scenarios, from helping women relax during childbirth to alleviating depression and in pain management.

Music therapy has attracted the attention of some high-profile figures. American singer Ben Folds is a strong advocate, and former Australian cricketer Brett Lee put his money where his mouth is by setting up an academy for music therapy in Delhi. Musicians train at Lee’s academy to help children afflicted by trauma, illness and cognitive disabilities.

So how exactly can music make an impact on your body's healing?

Improving moods, community and study

Music – like food, money and love – releases a chemical in the brain called dopamine, or 'the happy hormone'. Put simply, music makes us feel good.

The Australian Children's Music Foundation (ACMF) uses the power of music to enrich the lives of disadvantaged and Indigenous youth across the country and research has shown that participation in the program helps incarcerated youth redefine their sense of self, as well as develop a sense of community.

There is also evidence that music can help your memory. Groups in rehab who were recovering from a stroke were assigned to listen to music, to an audio book or to 'nothing' (outside their normal daily lives). Those who listened to music had better verbal memory and focused attention, and were less depressed and confused. So, ramp up the sound while you study!

Music – like food, money and love – releases a chemical in the brain called dopamine, or 'the happy hormone'. Put simply, music makes us feel good.

Practising your moves and performing

Taking to the dance floor could also have health benefits, which help us fight off disease by boosting our immune systems. Researchers found that volunteers' levels of antibodies increased and their stress hormones decreased – boosting their immune systems – after listening to "uplifting dance music" for 50 minutes. Taking it a step further, they found that patients who weren't consciously listening – in fact, they were under general anaesthetic – showed decreased levels of stress hormones.

While listening to music can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress and anxiety, performing music can also affect your breathing and heart rate – but you may have to move beyond air guitar. Singing in a choir has more impact again, having a calming effect on the entire group. And premature babies have been shown to respond better to their parents singing lullabies than to music played by therapists.

Music during surgery

The part music plays in regulating breathing and heartbeat, and decreasing levels of the hormone cortisol – which helps maintain blood pressure, immune function and anti-inflammatory processes – is definitely a plus for patients undergoing surgery. Its positive impact on stress and depression is also a factor.

What other benefits can music possibly have?

Listening to music in the operating theatre can significantly reduce postoperative pain and anxiety, as well as the need for pain relief medication. Not only does it make the patient more comfortable, it’s less expensive and does away with potential medication side-effects.

So, before you press play on your favourite banger, remember that it could do more than make you want to dance – those sick beats might also be able to make you better!

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