Music for the body and mind

We’ve all got songs that we love to listen to. Those that help us pound the pavement faster, those that motivate and inspire us, and those that bring feelings of nostalgia.

However, some recent research suggests that listening to music may have more benefits than just those things alone. 
 
A small 2015 study by the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology found that listening to heavy metal music may decrease hostility, stress and irritability, and increase positive emotions.  
 
“When experiencing anger, extreme music fans liked to listen to music that could match their anger,” says Leah Sharman, lead researcher. 
 
“The music helped them explore the full gamut of emotion they felt, but also left them feeling more active and inspired.”
 
“Results showed levels of hostility, irritability and stress decreased after music was introduced, and the most significant change reported was the level of inspiration they felt.” 
 
Psychologist Marny Lishmann says that listening to music we love may help regulate our emotional and physical state. 
 
“Music helps reinforce how we’re feeling by releasing the energy we’re holding in and relaxing our nervous system so our body returns to homeostasis – the body’s optimal state.”
 
Music can also be a great distraction tool because it’s competing for our brain’s attention. “It can help switch you into a different mode, and is a great everyday mindfulness tool,” says Lishmann.
 
But the benefits may be more far reaching than that. 
 
A 2015 UK study by Professor Peter Sleight and his team at Oxford University, found that listening to certain pieces of classical music (slow ones with a 10-second rhythm) had the biggest effect on helping to calm the participants and reduce their heart rate. Faster classical music and some pop songs, either had no effect, or raised the heart rate of the small group of students participating in the study.
young man listening to music
While other music therapy may also benefit those in aged care. 
 
To understand further the link between neuroscience, music and social wellbeing, the University of Melbourne is currently conducting a world first initiative.  
 
“We know that music is a really powerful way of changing the brain, and has a direct impact on the emotional areas that interact with cognition and learning,” says Professor Sarah Wilson, director of Music, Mind and Wellbeing
 
More recently, Wilson and her team undertook studies that explored how the brain and body is impacted by, not only listening to music, but also partaking in it. 
 
“We did a study comparing expert singers to non-experts, looking at differences in their singing network [in the brain] and how this relates to the language network in the brain,” says Wilson.
 
The findings showed that experts have a more specialised singing network that has been shaped by training, and there is less overlap with their brain’s language network.  
 
“This may have important benefits for people who’ve lost the ability to speak, through disease or injury, where they may use their singing network to help train the brain to relearn speech,” says Wilson.  
 
“We’ve done research that demonstrates this in survivors of stroke and people with epilepsy.”
 
In another study, Wilson conducted a singing based program to explore the impact music participation has on mood. 
 
“All participants reported a better mood afterwards because music stimulates the pleasure centres of the brain, and singing is also quite physical.”
 
So, next time you’re feeling down, stressed or just generally not yourself, put on some music and sing. It could well be what you need to start to feel better. 
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