Classical music is often said to be relaxing, with an implication of the slower rhythm of times gone by. But the realm of classical music itself can’t be said to be entirely relaxing at all times, and it turns out our emotional – and physical – responses are more complicated than the usual assumption.
Researchers from a private school in Illinois, along with a rheumatologist and lead researcher Amir Darki, an associate professor of cardiology at Loyola University Medical Center, looked at these supposed links between listening to classical music, blood pressure and mood. The article is titled Darki C, Riley J, Dadabhoy DP, et al. (July 27, 2022) The Effect of Classical Music on Heart Rate, Blood Pressure and Mood. Pastor 14(7).
The emotional-physical connection
Researchers have noted that depression and anxiety have negative effects on physical health as well as mental health. Numerous studies confirm the links between increased levels of stress and anxiety, and increased heart rate and blood pressure, leading to heart disease.
- The nervous system is linked to the cardiovascular system — this is how effects are created;
- In addition to heart disease, stress and anxiety have been linked to diabetes, stroke, respiratory disorders.
problems and addiction.
In short, listening to classical music can help.
Previous studies have documented the psychological effects of listening to music, especially when it comes to managing conditions like chronic anxiety and depression. However, the paper notes that many older studies used small sample sizes, where the participants were very similar.
- 100 attendees were enrolled, including 53 men and 47 women with an average age of 39.8 years +/- 17.8;
- 40% were musicians; 35% were taking medication; 62% said they liked classical music;
- They used two pieces, both per Beethoven: Destiny Symphony or his Fifth Symphonyand the Moonlight Sonata;
- The two pieces were chosen to feature contrasting tempos — one slower, the other faster;
- Resting heart rate and blood pressure were taken before;
- BP was measured 40 seconds after listening to #5, then after the end;
- After a minute of rest, the exercise was repeated with Moonlight Sonata after 90 seconds, and at the end of the performance.
As expected, listening to classical music has positive physical and emotional effects.
- Listening to fast music increased heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure;
- Listening to slow music decreased heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
- 83% said fast music created positive emotions;
- 56% said slow music created positive emotions;
- 98% said fast music helps manage stress;
- 99% said slow music helps manage stress;
- Only 3% said that fast music creates negative feelings, and 9% of subjects said the same about slow music.
The results were analyzed by age group, gender and whether the listeners were themselves musicians.
- Physical and emotional effects were similar across domains;
- The only exception was musicians, whose systolic blood pressure after listening was lower than others by a statistically significant measure.
Researchers discuss the concept that the body reacts rhythmically to the music you listen to, speeding up when the tempo is faster and slowing down when it’s slower. They found that the level of arousal was proportional to the actual speed, i.e. the effect was greater the faster/slower the music.
They also note that the vagus nerve, which controls heart rate as part of the body’s autonomic system, is located near the eardrum and can respond directly to musical vibrations. Listening to music can also help the body produce dopamine, the feel-good hormone.
The study adds interesting findings to the growing body of research on music and its influence on our lives.
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