June 23, 2009

Music Influences Blood Flow, Respiratory Rates

Italian researchers have discovered that human blood flow and respiratory rates can follow the pace of music, which suggests that doctors could one day use music as part of rehabilitation for patients suffering from heart disease or stroke.

Writing in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, Dr. Luciano Bernardi and colleagues said that the heart rate of healthy adults appeared to change along with the change in musical rhythms.

The researchers had previously discovered that faster paced music caused listeners' respiratory rate, heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Once the music was stopped, the rates declined.

"The profile of music (crescendo or decrescendo) is continuously tracked by the cardiovascular and respiratory systems," said Dr. Bernardi, a professor of internal medicine at Pavia University in Pavia, Italy.

"Music induces a continuous, dynamic "” and to some extent predictable "” change in the cardiovascular system."

"It is not only the emotion that creates the cardiovascular changes, but this study suggests that also the opposite might be possible, that cardiovascular changes may be the substrate for emotions, likely in a bi-directional way," he added.

His team matched 24 healthy adults with 12 experienced singers (nine women) and 12 participants (seven women) who had no previous musical training.

Each participant was attached to electrocardiogram (ECG) and monitors to measure blood pressure, cerebral artery flow, respiration and narrowing of blood vessels on the skin.

They listened to five tracks of varying genres, as well as two minutes of silence. Selections included Beethoven's Ninth Symphony; an aria from Puccini's Turandot; a Bach cantata (BMW 169); Va Pensiero from Nabucco; Libiam Nei Lieti Calici from La Traviata.

"The profile of music (crescendo or decrescendo) is continuously tracked by the cardiovascular and respiratory systems," Bernardi wrote. "This is particularly evident when music is rich in emphasis, like in operatic music. These findings increase our understanding of how music could be used in rehabilitative medicine."

Researchers discovered that each crescendo in music resulted in increased narrowing of blood vessels under the skin, increased blood pressure and heart rate and increased respiration amplitude.

During the silent portion of the study, noticeable changes decreased.

"Unlike with music, silence reduced heart rate and other variables, indicating relaxation," researchers found.

Other studies have shown that music has the ability to lower stress levels as well as improve athletic performance and enhance motor skills in people with neurological problems.

"What we are learning from the present and previous study is that alternating between fast and slow music (crescendo and decrescendo within the same music track) may be potentially more effective," Bernardi said.

Researchers said more study is needed as the recent report included only 24 participants, all of whom were of similar age, education and ethnicity.

"Different responses might have come from older subjects, or subjects accustomed to different styles of music," said researchers.


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