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Relax – music is good for us

November 2017

enjoying music with headphones

Most of us like listening to music of one sort or another, but in fact there is more to music that just enjoyment.

Of course teenagers have been telling us for generations that they can’t live without being plugged into their favourite bands, but while we don’t have to go to these extremes, listening to music really can not only change our mood but actually have deeper positive effects on the brain.

Quite a lot of research has been done by neuroscientists on the effect of music and one of the main points they discovered was the music activates every main part of our brain. This means it is an excellent work out for our whole head but especially in motor control, auditory processing (slightly more obvious) and in spatial co-ordination. Evidently professional musicians have enlarged corpus callosum, an area of nerve fibres that helps to link the two halves of our brain together.

There is now science behind how music can change your mood. Upbeat happy music can lower your cortisol levels, this is the hormone involved in stress. Interestingly, listening to music can also increase the neurotransmitter dopamine; the same chemical that makes us feel good after eating chocolate. It also enhances the production of oxytocin, a hormone that helps us to trust and bond with other people.

For some time, it has been known that music therapy can help people with Alzheimer’s and now professional music therapists are looking at using this technique for other problems as well including chronic pain and depression. If being a music therapist sounds like the perfect job where you just sit with someone listening to great music, there is a bit more to it than that! Therapists are carefully trained to create programmes specifically for individual patients, working on improving cognitive skills through music responses, designing individual music programmes to change certain mood reactions and working together with their patients on music improvisation, song writing, lyric discussion and receptive music listening sessions.

The benefits have been well documented, with tests showing the brains “lighting up” and become activated by certain musical sessions. For reasons that are still being investigated, musical memories last a lot longer than many other memories, and for some people with advanced Alzheimer’s, listening to music has helped people to start reacting again.

For people with grandchildren, encouraging music lessons from a young age is not just an old fashioned idea. Music taught at a young age has been found to really help develop brain power.
Just a 30 minute lesson will increase blood flow into the left side of the brain and other benefits are said to include brain connectivity and spatial intelligence.

For most of us, listening to music is just a pleasure. Now we can enjoy our musical interludes even more knowing they are also good for our health!

If you would like more information on professional music therapy, a good place to start is the British Association for Music Therapy.


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