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Mozart as Medicine: The Health Benefits of Music

Mozart as Medicine: The Health Benefits of Music
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David Binanay started playing the violin when he was five. By age 12, he performed at the world famous Carnegie Hall in New York City and, soon after, at the White House. In 2006, fresh from his graduation from Villanova University, Binanay was positioned perfectly to build his life around music. He moved into his own place and started a job at a high-end violin shop. That is when he noticed the bleeding.

Music and the mind

It was a gastrointestinal bleed. Binanay experienced one before and he called his mom to let her know what was happening. She wanted to help, but he stopped her. “Don’t worry about it. I’m going to handle it myself,” he said. This was the first time Binanay tried to handle a serious health issue on his own. When he arrived at the hospital, things began to spiral out of control. His hands started shaking and his mind began to separate from reality. “It was my first psychotic episode,” David recalls. The situation went downhill fast. After resolving the bleeding issue and leaving the hospital, Binanay’s psychosis continued. He started having delusions and became fearful of everything. “I couldn’t even walk into a grocery store because of the fear,” he says. “I didn’t really know what I was afraid of, but I feared for my life. In the span of one week I went from being normal to having a complete psychotic breakdown.” This was the peak of his psychosis, but his battle was just beginning. He struggled with schizophrenia for the next five years. His medications worked, but he had trouble sticking to them. There was one thing, however, that always seemed to help. “My dad would look at me and say, ‘Dave, go get your violin.’”

The healing power of music

Music stopped the pain. “Every time I did play, I noticed a change,” Binanay said. “I would channel my emotions through my music. The fear would turn to music. It would turn to sound.” A new medication schedule helped too. Binanay found it much easier to stick to his medication when he switched from pills to injections, which he only needed once a month. Today, after a five-year battle, Binanay has made a full recovery. He plays his violin up to 10 hours per day and runs a non-profit, Music Over Mind, that performs free music shows at hospitals for people suffering from mental illness.

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“Music has been my catalyst for recovery,” Binanay says. “It has been a 180 degree turnaround. From complete loss to total re-birth. I recently got married. I have my own place with my wife. I feel like I’m a better person than before my illness.”

David Binanay’s story raises an interesting series of questions. Can music help heal us? What role does music play in our health and happiness? Can music be a form of medicine?

The stroke victim who was healed by music

In her book The Power of Music, author Elena Mannes shares the story of a stroke patient who lost the ability to speak. After struggling to re-learn normal speech patterns, the patient makes a breakthrough by singing her words rather than saying them. This approach is known as melodic intonation therapy and it engages the right side of the brain more than normal speech. As a result, this different section of the brain can stand in as a replacement for the normal language area and be used to communicate through song. [1]

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At first glance, this story may seem like a very specific way to combine music and health, but it actually provides a good indication of the state of music therapy. There are many stories about music being used to help Parkinson’s patients move, autistic children focus and learn, and multiple sclerosis patients reduce spasms. These stories, however, have no research studies supporting them. My guess is that these are individualized results which, although true, are difficult to extrapolate to the entire population. That said, there are a handful of health benefits of music that are well-accepted and scientifically proven.

The research: music as medicine

Music can be used to relieve pain in patients. For example, surgery patients at the Cleveland Clinic that listened to recorded music saw a four times decrease in post-surgical pain. Music is also shown to reduce the amount of anesthesia needed during operations. [2, 3]

Music can be used to relieve stress and anxiety. Calming music decreases blood pressure, steadies the heart rate, and eases stress. Research shows that music can reduce stress for patients undergoing surgeries and colonoscopies, for children undergoing medical procedures, and for patients with coronary heart disease. [4-7]

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There is also preliminary evidence showing that listening to music can boost immune system function by decreasing stress hormones and increasing growth hormones. These changes prime the body to be in a better state for recovering from and resisting illnesses, but the research is weak thus far and needs further investigation. [8]

There are a range of studies that link music to happiness and pleasure in different ways. Despite the differences in the individual studies, the scientific consensus on the topic is that music does stimulate the same areas of the brain that trigger pleasure in other activities. A range of studies find that listening to pleasurable music stimulates the mesocorticolimbic system in the brain, which is the same “pleasure center” that is triggered by humor, tasty food, and even cocaine. In this way, you could say that music is like a drug. If music makes you happy, then it might be possible that it is good for your health. [9-12] These benefits sound great, but is music unique in providing these benefits? Not really. Given the current state of the research, it is not known if music is any better at healing than other alternatives. Music is not the only way to relieve pain or reduce stress. Music might work well for Person A, while meditation is better for Person B, and deep breathing or exercise help Person C. If nothing else, however, music is another tool at your disposal when you want to relieve pain, reduce stress, and promote healing.

The limitations of music therapy

You can summarize the current state of research on the connection between music and health by saying that we know music impacts our brains and bodies, but we don’t quite understand exactly why or how music does this. And because we don’t understand the details, it can be hard to use music for healing. To be honest, part of these issues could be solved if researchers performed better studies. Right now, researchers aren’t doing themselves any favors because musical research rarely follows a typical format. Here are a few common errors (and solutions): [13]

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  1. Current research doesn’t clearly differentiate if it is the act of playing music or the act of listening to music that benefits patients. For example, if a patient gets better after playing songs on a keyboard, chanting in different tones, or singing their favorite song, is he benefiting from the musical notes or from the act of playing music? Future studies should investigate if active performance or passive listening yields better results.
  2. Current research poorly categorizes the impact of different music styles. Most researchers lump music therapy into broad “stimulating” or “relaxing” categories. Future research should include more clearly defined boundaries, so we can understand which types of music can be used to heal in specific situations.
  3. Current research flip-flops on who controls the music. Sometimes the experimenter chooses the music. Sometimes the patient chooses her own music. This can complicate things because sometimes you are more likely to see music as having a positive impact simply if you select the music. Future research should be more clear about this selection process.
  4. Current research varies between individual listening, individual playing, and group playing. In many cases, patients may benefit from simply doing an activity with a group and not the music itself. Future research should investigate these environmental factors to help clarify the impact of individual vs. group music therapy.
  5. Current research, at least what I found, was universally missing a large, randomized trial. This type of study is the gold-standard of research and if music therapy interventions are to be taken seriously, then a high quality randomized study is needed.

The health benefits of music

Whether it is a pick-me-up song that brightens your mood or a life-saving violin practice like that of David Binanay, we have all felt the healing power of music. From a research standpoint, the health benefits of music are unproven. However, I say that I try to balance being a scientist with being a practitioner and, from a practical standpoint, there are very few reasons to avoid music as a way to improve your health and happiness. Music therapy is noninvasive, inexpensive, and convenient. And music is one of the lifestyle choices we can make that relieves stress and anxiety, decreases pain, and protects against disease. Stefan Koelsch, a senior research fellow in neurocognition at the University of Sussex in Brighton, summarizes the healing effects of music by saying, “I can’t say music is a pill to abolish diseases. But … So many pills have horrible side effects, both physiological and psychological. Music has no side effects, or no harmful ones.” [14, 15]

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Sources

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  1. The Power of Music by Elena Mannes. pg. 179
  2. The Power of Music by Elena Mannes. pg. 168
  3. The Power of Music by Elena Mannes. pg. 172
  4. Cepeda, M.S. et al. (2006) Music for pain relief.
  5. Nilsson, U. (2008) The anxiety and pain-reducing effects of music interventions: a systematic review.
  6. Dileo, C. and Bradt, J. (2007) Music therapy: applications to stress management. In Principles and Practice of Stress Management (Lehrer, P.M. et al., eds), pp. 519–544, Guilford Press
  7. Bradt, J. and Dileo, C. (2009) Music for stress and anxiety reduction in coronary heart disease patients.
  8. Gangrade, A. (2012) The effect of music on the production of neurotransmitters, hormones, cytokines, and peptides: a review.
  9. Breiter, H.C. et al. (1997) Acute effects of cocaine on human brain activity and emotion.
  10. Small, D.M. et al. (2001) Changes in brain activity related to eating chocolate: From pleasure to aversion.
  11. Mobbs, D. et al. (2003) Humor modulates the mesolimbic reward centers.
  12. Blood, A.J.and Zatorre, R.J.(2001) Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion.
  13. Many of these research limitations are covered in the guide, The Neurochemistry of Music by Chanda and Levitin.
  14. The Power of Music. pg. 193-194
  15. There is one side effect of music: opportunity cost. Listening to music that makes you happy is a great way to spend your time, but only if you’re not ignoring other things that make you happy or could improve your health and lifestyle. For example, if you listened to music that made you happy all day, but never worked out, then how big of a health benefit are you really getting? The same could be said for happiness. If you simply consumed music that you enjoyed all day long would you end up living a better life than if you had spent that time building a business you loved or mastering a skill that advanced your career? As with all uses of our time, there are tradeoffs to listening to music and it’s important to balance it with other areas of life that provide a payoff.

Thanks to David Binanay for taking time to chat with me and to Sam Sager for his help researching this article.

Featured photo credit: There is nothing more to be said or to be done tonight, so hand me over my violin and let us try to forget for half an hour the miserable weather and the still more miserable ways of our fellowmen./Flood G. via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on July 12, 2021

100 Incredible Life Hacks That Make Life So Much Easier

100 Incredible Life Hacks That Make Life So Much Easier
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Want to learn some quick and easy life hacks that are easy to do, low cost and saves you time?

By tweaking little things in your daily life, it can make your life much more convenient!

Here’re 100 of the most practical life hacks so you can just pick up any of them right away!

83 tie a small piece of bright colored fabric

    84 write random letter

      85 use a rubberband

        86 dorm smell bad

          87 lean your phone on your sunglassess

            89 how to waterproof your shoes

              90 take a picture of the name card

                91 iron inside out

                  92 old newspaper

                    93 tumble try shoes

                      keep a card like this

                        SONY DSC

                          94 soap bar

                            95 make a hole

                              96 drop the battery

                                97 use a coozie

                                  98 when taking a picture

                                    use a clean dust pan

                                      try a pants hanger

                                        use your cellphone light

                                          use a spring from an old pen

                                            quick and easy iphone speaker

                                              user binder clips

                                                wrap a wet paper towel around your beverage

                                                  put pancake mix in a ketchup bottle

                                                    clean out an old lotion bottle for your beach

                                                      use a muffin tin to serve condiments at a bbq

                                                        doritos are great for kindling

                                                          use nail polish to identify different keys

                                                            use a hanging shoe rack to store cleaning supplies

                                                              freeze grapes to chill white wine without

                                                                use paper clips to organize your cables

                                                                  almost finished your jar of nutella

                                                                    sick of having a box full of tangled

                                                                      unroll the rim to increase the capacity

                                                                        cut open toilet paper rolls and use as a cuff

                                                                          remove the stem from strawberries

                                                                            turn an old bottle into a simple little cord holder

                                                                              for iced coffee and iced cappuccino, use frozen coffee cubes

                                                                                how to fold a fitted bed sheet

                                                                                  tired of snoozing past your alarm

                                                                                    place a rubber band around an open paint can to wipe your brush on

                                                                                      ut a wooden spoon across a boiling pot

                                                                                        use bread clips to save flip-flops

                                                                                          take pictures of friends holding items

                                                                                            how i always know which headphone is the left one

                                                                                              put a stocking over the end of a vacuum

                                                                                                How to make sure you drink enough water

                                                                                                  user a can opener to open blister

                                                                                                    good sandwich guide

                                                                                                      turn your muffin pans upside down

                                                                                                        50 pounds of groceries and living on the 5th floor

                                                                                                          the right way to make a blt

                                                                                                            add one teaspoon of baking soda

                                                                                                              38

                                                                                                                hair straighteners equals to collar irons

                                                                                                                  stack your clothes vertically to see them all

                                                                                                                    the right way to make cookies in the summer

                                                                                                                      how to clean a blender

                                                                                                                        the right way to eat a popsicle

                                                                                                                          use bread clips to label and organize power cords

                                                                                                                            to get the built up residue off of your shower head

                                                                                                                              user a hair clip to orgainize long wires

                                                                                                                                a frozen saturated sponge in a bag

                                                                                                                                  rub stuck zipper teeth with a graphite pencil

                                                                                                                                    use a soda pop tab

                                                                                                                                      50

                                                                                                                                        51 How to multiply large numbers in your head.

                                                                                                                                          52 How to open a bottle if you dont have a corkscrew.

                                                                                                                                            rub a walnut on damaged wooden furniture

                                                                                                                                              kids fall out of bed

                                                                                                                                                use toothpaste to clear up hazy car

                                                                                                                                                  58

                                                                                                                                                    59 keep pizza out while driving home

                                                                                                                                                      60 put your straw through the tab to keep it from rising

                                                                                                                                                        hold oreos with a fork so your fingers

                                                                                                                                                          Never lose your remotes again

                                                                                                                                                            hiding your emergency money

                                                                                                                                                              use a bread tab to hold your spot on a roll

                                                                                                                                                                if you are at a hotel and run out of chargers

                                                                                                                                                                  keep a square of cardboard in a ziplock bag

                                                                                                                                                                    If you need to pee or smoke at a bar

                                                                                                                                                                      drill holes in the bottom of your garbage

                                                                                                                                                                        use an accented letter as your passcode

                                                                                                                                                                          use a squeeze ketchup bottle top with your shopvac

                                                                                                                                                                            do something unusual when locking the door

                                                                                                                                                                              when heating leftovers space out a circle in the middle

                                                                                                                                                                                dont burn yourself in those hard to reach candles

                                                                                                                                                                                  put a small amount of water in a glass when you microwave your pizza

                                                                                                                                                                                    75 use a piece of paper to organize

                                                                                                                                                                                      use half a pool noodle

                                                                                                                                                                                        pencil case to store cables

                                                                                                                                                                                          78 clothespin to hold nail

                                                                                                                                                                                            79 make blts

                                                                                                                                                                                              80 take a picture of your fridge

                                                                                                                                                                                                81 fill plastic water bottles

                                                                                                                                                                                                  82 right ways to eat chips

                                                                                                                                                                                                    99 if your plug keeps failing

                                                                                                                                                                                                      100 put the banana on the wire

                                                                                                                                                                                                        88 before you throw away a post it

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Source: Reddit LifeProTips

                                                                                                                                                                                                          There you go, 100 awesome life hacks that you can try right now to make your life a lot easier!

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