Whether it’s Beethoven or Bob Marley, we all have a song that stirs up something wonderful inside of us: Our hearts seem to expand, our breath softens, and the world around us looks that much lovelier.
Turns out it’s not all between your ears—and no pun intended.
Heaps of research demonstrate that music is not only good for your soul, but is also a boon for your health—so much so “music therapy has played an increasing role in all facets of healing,” Harvard Health reports, underscoring what humans have known for centuries. (Ancient philosophers such as Plato and Confucius touted the value of music long before experiments were conducted, and used music to ease stress.)
So queue up your favorite musicians and break out those earbuds: this is what those melodies can do for your well-being:
1. Enhances happiness
Your go-to song for a burst of pleasure might be a beat by Katy Perry. For others, it’s a tune from the 70s (Rolling Stones, anybody?). Regardless of your genre of choice, know this: there’s a scientific reason why we skip to our favorite Pandora station and a large part of it has to do with our happiness.
Listening to music, neuroscientists have found, “heightens positive emotion through the reward centers of our brain, stimulating hits of dopamine that can make us feel good or even elated,” The Huffington Post reports. In fact, almost no part of the brain is impervious to music, rendering it a windfall when we’re feeling down or in need of a boost of energy.
2. Alleviates anxiety
Mothers sing lullabies to their babies. Surgeons play music in the background. Doctor’s offices come with a soundtrack. Even elevators—a source of panic for many—are harmonized. Ever wonder why?
Research published by Sage Journal gives us an inkling. A study completed in 2014 illustrated that certain pieces of music—in this case, a slow-paced flute recording—created a marked drop in blood pressure and heart rate, leading researchers to conclude that music “reduces stress, anxiety and depression, enhances life satisfaction, optimism and hope, and makes life more meaningful.” (Spotify was sure onto something, weren’t they?)
3. Helps manage appetite
From Zumba classes pulsing with pop tunes to myriad apps tailored to runners, music and fitness have long made excellent bedfellows. But did you know that music might also help you control your appetite?
“When Hardee’s gave one of its restaurants a fine-dining makeover—including soft lighting and jazz—diners ate about 18 percent less and reported enjoying their food more, according to a Cornell study in the journal Psychological Reports,” Reader’s Digest says. Away from food, and music can do wonders for your workout as well, from helping you push the pace when spinning to increasing your stamina when lifting weights. Strike the right note and you can reap even more benefits: “songs with phrases like ‘push it,’ ‘work it’ and ‘I believe’ can subconsciously propel you to keep on keeping on,” reports author of Inside Sport Psychology Costas Karageorghis.
4. Decreases pain
The agony of a breakup can be either deepened or relieved by music (it’s a no-brainer why Bon Iver has such a huge following). But physical pain—from chronic back discomfort to the strain felt during rehabilitation—can be mitigated by the power of music.
“Music therapy has been tested in a variety of patients, ranging from those with intense short-term pain to those with chronic pain from arthritis,” Harvard Health reports. “Overall, music therapy decreases pain perception, reduces the amount of pain medication needed, helps relieve depression in pain patients, and gives them a sense of better control over their pain.” Meaning, next time you have a migraine, give something soothing a shot. (May we suggest Cat Power or Coldplay?)
5. Bolsters quality of life for people with dementia
Dementia—the mental decline that may be present in stroke-sufferers and Alzheimer’s patients—is often accompanied by a litany of discomforts, including distress, paranoia, poor concentration and memory loss.
But because “the ability to engage with music remains intact late into the disease process,” Harvard Health reports, it can “help evoke memories, reduce agitation, assist communication and improve physical coordination.” Part of that may be due to what music asks of us. Pointing out the relationships between one note and the next, John Hopkins Medicine reminds us that music “is structural, mathematical and architectural…You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it.”
6. Improves sleep
From shutting down your electronics early to savoring a mug of herbal tea, most of us have a handle on how to prepare for—fingers crossed—a good night’s sleep.
But if you’re suffering from a bout of insomnia—or merely want to get more restful slumber—consider taking a few minutes to absorb some relaxing music: According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, listening to 45 minutes of classical music before bedtime significantly improved sleep quality among patients and improved symptoms of depression right along with it. Just ensure that it’s classical music and not classical literature: Those who listened to audiobooks prior to shuteye revealed no change in their sleep patterns. In other words, cue the Chopin.