Take a tune and come back to see me in the morning. Doctors have found that prescribing music can improve heart health and lower cholesterol levels.
Their research found that if a patient listens to 30 minutes a day of their favourite music, it does more than relaxing them mentally – it also benefits them physically by expanding and clearing blood vessels.
Doctors have tried the method on some patients in America and it has been welcomed by British experts. It is believed to work by triggering the release into the bloodstream of nitric oxide, which helps to prevent the build-up of blood clots and harmful cholesterol. The findings are part of a growing body of research into the effects of music on the human body. Scientists have found that songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers and Madonna can improve endurance, while 18th-century symphonies can improve mental focus.
When it comes to the effect on the bloodstream, however, the key is not the type of music but what the listener prefers. The same is true of volume and tempo.
“The music effect lasts in the bloodstream for only a few seconds but the accumulative benefit of favourite tunes lasts and can be very positive in people of all ages,” said Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at Maryland University, who carried out the research. He added: “We were looking for cheaper, nonpharmacological aids to help us improve our patients’ heart health and we think this is the prescription.”
The Maryland study, based on healthy nonsmoking men and women with an average age of 36, found the diameter of blood vessels in the upper arm expanded by 26% in volunteers listening to music they found enjoyable.
Miller said blood vessel expansion indicated that nitric oxide was being released throughout the body, reducing clots and LDL, a form of cholesterol linked to heart attacks. He also warned that listening to stressful music, which for many in the experiments included heavy metal and rap, can shrink blood vessels by 6% – the same effect, according to previous experiments, as eating a large hamburger.