A Surprising Way to Keep Your Heart Beating

In 1994, Tony Cicoria was smacked in the face by lightning.

The then 42-year-old orthopedic surgeon was near a lakeside pavilion in upstate New York at the time. He had just finished talking with his mother on a payphone. As he explained to Oliver Sacks, in Musicophilia:

My mother hung up. The phone was a foot away from where I was standing when I got struck. I remember a flash of lightening coming out of the phone. It hit me in the face. Next thing I remember, I was flying backwards.

His heart stopped briefly, but luckily he was revived by a nurse who happened to be nearby and quickly gave him CPR. When he regained consciousness, he refused transport to the hospital. "It's okay, I'm a doctor," he said.

After seeing his own cardiologist and a neurologist, Cicoria seemed to be just fine – aside from some sluggishness and memory problems (which only lasted a couple of weeks).

And just when it seemed like his life was returning to normal, Cicoria suddenly became obsessed with listening to piano music. Then he started teaching himself to play. He found himself waking up at four in the morning to practice the piano before work... and coming home to practice even more. Eventually, he'd learned enough to start writing his own music.

Cicoria's experience is rare – a neurological syndrome called acquired savant syndrome. Prior to his accident, Cicoria had no real passion for music. But his new passion was likely doing wonders for his heart...

Music to Heal Your Heart

The heart is the hardest-working muscle in your body.

It's only about as big as your clenched fist and it never stops working, pumping about 2,000 gallons' worth of blood every day.

According to the American Heart Association ("AHA"), by the time you turn 70 years old, your heart will have beaten more than 2.5 billion times.

But most people don't think about their heart until something goes wrong.

While most of us don't have to worry about a lightning strike stopping our hearts, we all experience changes to our heart muscle as we age...

Plaques (made up of extra cholesterol and fat deposits in the blood) build up in the walls of your arteries – causing them to thicken, harden, narrow, or even become blocked. And chronic high blood pressure puts added strain on your blood vessel walls.

Less cardiovascular elasticity means your heart has to work even harder to pump blood throughout your body. It also means that the coronary arteries – which supply blood to the heart – might struggle to get enough oxygen and nutrients to your heart muscle in order to keep it working well...

All of this can lead to a heart attack. And according to the AHA, an estimated 805,000 heart attacks occur each year in the U.S.

But there's a surprising way to keep your heart happy...

Listening to music.

In a seven-year study from the University of Belgrade School of Medicine, researchers studied the influence of music on 350 patients who had survived a heart attack and were experiencing subsequent chest pain.

The participants were split into two groups... One group only received the standard medical treatment, which included a variety of medications like blood-clot-preventing drugs, statins, and blood pressure drugs. The second group got the standard treatment too, but they were also told to complete daily music listening sessions.

Folks in the second group listened to music they found most soothing. The researchers determined the best fit for each person by playing nine 30-second music samples and measuring the involuntary movements of their pupils... When pupils dilate, folks are in a "fight or flight" stressed mode, and when pupils narrow, they are in a "rest and digest" relaxed mode.

Once they had their music, these folks were instructed to listen for 30 minutes each day, whenever they had time to sit down and rest with their eyes closed. For seven years, the participants logged these listening sessions, and they periodically followed up with the researchers.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that folks in the listening group had about 30% less anxiety and 25% fewer chest pain symptoms than the folks who only received the standard medical treatment. They also had lower rates of the following heart conditions:

  • Heart failure (18%)
  • Subsequent heart attack (23%)
  • Coronary artery bypass graft surgery (20%)
  • Cardiac death (16%)

The truth is that almost all of us will have to deal with heart issues in the future. So don't wait until something bad happens... Keep your heart happy and spend a little time every day relaxing with some music that soothes you.

We've said before that music calms us down and supports our immune systems... Listening to music you find relaxing calms your nervous system by acting through your hormones. It reduces your production of the stress hormone cortisol, the fight-or-flight stimulator adrenaline, and the heart-rate-increaser norepinephrine. But listening to music – especially soothing, slower-tempo tunes – can help lower those cortisol levels.

Find music that is personally soothing for you. Just stay away from music that raises your heart rate. Take some time out from your day when you can sit and rest while you listen to the music.

Your heart will thank you.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
October 12, 2023