First, a disclaimer on this editorial: what follows is based purely upon my own opinions and experiences. I’m not a scientist, nor do I claim to have any sort of personal knowledge, research-based or otherwise, that makes me some sort of expert on music, science, and the relationship between the two…but I am a music-lover, and that means I have something to say.
Last week I happened upon this article, and while Mind Equals Blown is not exactly a site on which you read about scientific breakthroughs concerning music, I think it’s the sort of thing that most music listeners will find interesting. Basically, scientists have found that listening to music has quantifiable, documented effects when it comes to controlling our overall moods, relieving stress, and even fortifying our immune system. Music, it seems, can be just as good as popping some over-the-counter pills.
It’s not just all in our heads when we claim that music makes us feel good; science is backing us up now. As one professional cited in the article put it, it’s not controversial anymore for someone in the health-related field to claim that music can double as medicine. It’s accepted now; it won’t make people look at you like you’re a hack.
As interesting as these findings are, I couldn’t help that my overall reaction to it was, “Wait, this is news?” I think that if you ask any number of music lovers, you’d find that slipping on a pair of headphones and relaxing into the recesses of their iPod is probably one of their best ways to chill out. Ditto for listening to something with a fast beat when we’re trying to make ourselves more alert, whether it’s before stepping out onto the basketball court or trying to keep our eyes open when the afternoon doldrums hit us at our desk.
It’s nothing new that music has an effect on us physically. When I was in college, I wrote an article for my school newspaper based on these findings. Basically, listening to your favorite music makes for a healthier cardiovascular system. For whatever reason, your blood vessels dilate; more blood flowing means a healthier body.
From a more personal standpoint, I run every morning and do yoga every night. When I first started doing those activities, I hated them. Loathed them with the passion of a thousand burning suns. Thought my lungs would give out and that my joints were going to dislocate themselves. My inner monologue while I worked out was basically just a steady stream of angry expletives. As soon as I replaced that with music (Pendulum and Anberlin for running; Massive Attack, Pure Reason Revolution, and Elbow for yoga – just in case you were wondering), I actually started to enjoy my workout sessions. Whether it’s because music takes our mind off of the hell we’re putting our body through or because it raises our pain tolerance, there’s a reason you see everyone at the gym jamming. Removing the music just means we have to focus on the pain we’re putting ourselves through.
And when it comes to stress relief, the link between music and our health seems ever more obvious. I travel a fair bit, and my go-to response for navigating a new city is to plug in my headphones. It doesn’t matter how stressed and tired I am, how many wrong turns I’ve made thus far, and how heavy my backpack is; the minute music comes into play, I can feel myself calming down. It’s more than just my mind being put to rest and becoming more confident; it’s like my entire body sighs a giant exhale of relief, simply because I now have a soundtrack.
Don’t get me wrong: I understand the importance to have hard, viable data when it comes to claiming something as legitimate in the science community. And the fact that this is now being accepted is awesome. It means I’m that much closer to my dentist letting me hook up my iPod to the office speakers so that I can listen to Florence & the Machine while she’s using her dental floss to make me look like a vampire who’s just had a fresh meal. Maybe someday, whenever we’re visiting the doctor, we’ll get asked what music we want playing in the room, right before we answer the standard questions about family history.
It’s just surprising that the connection between music and our health is still debated. True, it’s not exactly as if we can cite “popping a Radiohead/Bon Iver/Placebo” as a reason for recovery. And while a steady diet of your favorite albums isn’t going to set a broken leg or cure cancer, music as medicine definitely isn’t just a hokey, new age theory. Why has it taken this long for it to be accepted?