May 4, 2006

Relaxing effect of music enhanced during pauses

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Heart rate, blood pressure and
breathing rate fluctuate in respond to music, with an arousal
effect seen with increasing tempo, while slow, meditative music
induces a relaxing effect, especially during the pauses,
Italian researchers report.

Therefore, "music may give pleasure (and perhaps a health
benefit) as a result of this controlled alternation between
arousal and relaxation," Dr. Luciano Bernardi of the Universita
di Pavia and his colleagues speculate.

To investigate the potential effects of music on health,
particularly stress, Bernardi and his team had 24 men listen to
a random series of six two-minute musical tracks while the
researchers measured their heart rate, breathing, blood
pressure and other indicators of arousal or relaxation.

Before the music started, study participants, half of whom
had advanced musical training, relaxed for five minutes. The
tracks were then repeated in a different order, each lasting
four minutes. A two-minute period of silence was randomly
inserted into one of the sequences.

The tracks included raga, a type of Indian music; slow and
fast classical music; techno; rap; and dodecaphonic, or
twelve-tone, music, which lacks a traditional rhythmic,
harmonic and melodic structure.

The researchers found that most of the music increased
blood pressure and heart rate, with a stronger effect seen with
faster music. This effect appeared to depend on tempo, not
style; fast classical and techno had the same effect.

Shifts in heart rate and breathing were more pronounced in
the trained musicians, who also had a slower average breathing
rate than the non-musicians. The enhanced response in the
musicians is probably associated with their ability to
synchronize their breathing with the music phrase, the
researchers suggest.

During the silent interval, study participants' heart and
breathing rates and blood pressures fell. In musicians, the
silent interval also reduced activity of the sympathetic
nervous system, which triggers the "fight or flight" response.

Listening to music may have effects similar to that of
relaxation techniques, Bernardi and his colleagues note, which
generally require that a person focus his or her attention on
something and then release it. "Appropriate selection of music,
by alternating fast and slower rhythms and pauses, can be used
to induce relaxation and reduce sympathetic activity and thus
may be potentially useful in the management of cardiovascular
disease," they conclude.

SOURCE: Heart, April 2006.