Can a tinkle on the piano make you healthier?
Most of us know that physical activity is good for us, because it makes us feel better, and contributes to a longer life. But it is not as widely known that playing an instrument is beneficial for both the brain and the body. One main reason is that playing instruments seems to reduce stress. Accordingly, music can impact the strength and resulting effect of the immune system against infection and inflammation, which in turn contributes to e.g. atherosclerosis, depression and rheumatic diseases, among others.
Listening to and participating in music has a calming effect
Out of 25 studies that made various psychological stress and anxiety tests on subjects who listened to or participated in music 22 found that music provided a significant calming and relaxing effect. Furthermore, 16 of 20 studies found that music lowered blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate. And one study even found that listening to Mozart provided more stress relief than Valium!
Music suppresses the body's stress response
Most studies examining the subject found that music, particularly calm music, suppresses the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In fact it’s quite possible that calm music also reduces the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline.
Music can ease allergic reactions
Two studies have been carried out that examine how the reactions that are involved in classical allergies are influenced by music. One examined the amount of histamine that was formed when human subjects ate food they were allergic to. It was found that music reduced their allergic reactions. In the second study it was found that the music of Mozart subdued the amount of IgE antibodies involved in allergic reactions to latex.
Music seems to supress the first stage of inflammation
The first stage of inflammation starts when a few cells in the body perceive a stimulus. They then send out neurotransmitters that attract other white blood cells, which then trigger a defence mechanism. An important member of the early signalling process is a neurotransmitter called interleukin 6 (IL6). In four separate studies it was found that there was a clear decline in the number of neurotransmitters in human subjects that engaged in or listened to music. This means that it is possible that music can reduce the risk of early stage inflammation, particularly when it is “unnecessary" inflammation. Furthermore, we know that “unnecessary" inflammation plays an active role in a variety of illnesses, from depression to heart disease. Moreover, there is clear data showing that music therapies can prevent and alleviate many of these illnesses.
Music seems to strengthen the defence against infections
Cortisol suppresses immune system processes that control how the body reacts to infection. When we relax, and our stress levels fall, so too do the cortisol levels, and thus our defence against infections improves. A number of studies have found that music and musicianship increases the amount of different types of white blood cells. Numerous studies also show that listening to music and musicianship increase the amount of saliva and mucus containing a special kind of antibody called IgA. This helps bind bacteria and viruses in the mouth and intestines, and prevents them from attaching to the walls, to get into the body.
If you want to know more about music's effect on the human body you can read about the Cultural Brain at: Den Kulturella Hjärnan (Note, this webpage is in Swedish.)