From life's earliest moments to its latest stages, music can help make us healthier and happier. It can soothe and invigorate, improve mental health and even help someone stay alive.
"There's great appreciation for the value music can provide that's non-pharmacological and non-invasive," said Daniel Tague, assistant professor and chair of music therapy at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "As music therapists, we're also very invested in the therapeutic process."
Nancy Uscher, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said more and more research shows that the arts, "in addition to bringing you joy and satisfaction, can really be engaged for social value, and health is a big part of that."
Many scientific studies have underscored the power of music. To cite just a few examples: It can help brain development in infants born prematurely, reduce stress and boost immune systems, ease pain, improve workouts, and aid in treating people with Alzheimer's disease. One study even suggested the right music might help us eat less fast food.
But you don't need a stack of medical journals, an appointment with a specialist or a complicated prescription to put music to work for better health. Try these five sound ideas to fine-tune your life.
Put together an upbeat playlist
Whether it's a workout, yardwork or a marathon, music you enjoy with a vigorous tempo may help the time go by, distract feelings of fatigue and even increase the intensity as you match your exertion to the beat.
"Everyone is different," Tague said. "It's hard to give general advice. Just pick something that you like."
Put together a downbeat playlist
The right music can also tone things down, reducing stress, preparing to sleep, or just changing the overall mood.
"I've played concerts in prisons and in hospitals," said Uscher, a concert violist who has performed around the world. "You see how music can affect people, even people in misery, and enhance their lives."
Tague said soothing music can be even more effective "when you combine it with other methods of relaxation, such as breathing exercises, mindfulness or imagery."
Don't just listen – play
"The other side of the coin is active music-making," Tague said. "Whether it's playing the piano, picking up a guitar, being part of a choir or a community drum circle, this can really help people, especially older people who need the social interaction."
By the way, Uscher said, it's never too late. "I've taught people who never played an instrument before," she said. "They can progress very quickly because they're so focused."
Don't be discouraged by the pandemic
The isolation and depression that many people have endured in the COVID-19 era are all the more reason to incorporate music into life, Tague said.
"All of these things can be addressed with music," he said. "We do a lot of music therapy now through telehealth. You don't necessarily have to come all the way into a clinic, and it's very successful."
And if people are staying home, Tague said, "you can have family or caregivers be part of the music experience, and now people are much more familiar with using Zoom and other applications. It's a new evolving frontier, and in certain ways it can be better."
Brush up on 'Stayin' Alive'
Don't just use music for your own health. The rhythm of the Bee Gees hit made famous in the movie "Saturday Night Fever" corresponds to the ideal cadence of 100 to 120 beats a minute for chest compressions in administering hands-only CPR. In fact, a whole host of songs that match that cadence have been compiled into lifesaving CPR playlists on popular streaming services.
So if you hum along now as you learn how to push hard and fast on the center of the chest, you'll be on pace to make the song title come true in a real cardiac emergency.
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