Doc's note: Today's essay was chosen by one of our research writers, Amanda Cuocci...
I'm amazed at the ability of music to not only make us happy, but also relieve pain and stress. Pain management can help so many illnesses. Add to it the benefits to our brain health, and it's a therapy nearly everyone can enjoy.
It's personal for me. My grandfather loved music. He always had classical music or opera playing when I'd visit him. He'd take out his mandolin and play at family gatherings. I think of him often this time of year, because without him, the holidays feel very quiet.
I inherited my curiosity and a love of research from him. So I know this is exactly the kind of article he would have loved to read. That's why I wanted to share it today.
For autism, Alzheimer's, mood disorders, pain, cancer, Parkinson's... there's one type of therapy that brings relief to all these disparate diseases and disorders...
I love music.
I almost always have it playing in my office, whether it's classical music for focusing or top 40 pop music for boosting my energy. And I'm not alone. I look out at my analyst team and regularly see some of them with headphones on, dancing at their desks.
Music often makes it onto my list of top tips for a healthy year that I feature annually in Retirement Millionaire.
Here are the top 10 benefits to listening to music:
- Improves mood
- Boosts your creativity
- Boosts immune function
- Increases exercise stamina
- Improves spatial reasoning
- Aides with guided meditations
- Improves learning and test taking
- Improves recovery for stroke victims
- Reduces chronic pain and pain after surgery
- And most recently discovered, it helps you recover from a heart attack...
A few years ago, research presented at the European Society of Cardiology's meeting in Amsterdam found listening to music bolsters the recovery of people with heart disease.
People who listened to music for 30 minutes per day, in addition to exercising, improved their heart function more than people who just exercised. The researchers said the type of music wasn't important. They believe listening to music releases endorphins (mood-lifting and healing chemicals), helping to improve heart function.
And it's not just endorphins giving us a boost... Music also stimulates the reward centers of our brains.
As we've written before, dopamine plays a central role in happiness. It's the "feel good" hormone you experience from things like overeating and consuming spicy foods.
But dopamine is also a key neurotransmitter for something called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is basically how well your brain can change and adapt to stimuli. That means you can better adapt to aging.
And music acts as a key stimulator for these dopamine networks. What that means is that music helps stimulate areas in the brain responsible for the reward system. You listen to music, you feel happy. That's because those parts of your brain are getting lots of dopamine.
In 2001, Harvard scientists did imaging studies in which they saw certain areas of the brain release dopamine when patients listened to their favorite music.
There's another theory that music helps stimulate neuron connections. Neurons are the signaling cells in our brains. When two or more fire at the same time, those connections get stronger. So for instance, playing music at a certain tempo while working on walking helps folks with diseases like Parkinson's.
It's called "music therapy"...
It also includes things like singing practice to help strengthen the muscles used for swallowing. Music brings relief to those with mood disorders, helping alleviate anxiety and depression. For those with cancer, music can help manage stress and offer pain relief. In fact, playing music during painful procedures lowers the pain response, reducing the need for pain medications.
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Listening to music isn't the only way to benefit. Playing an instrument helps preserve your brain matter.
A 2003 Harvard study showed the benefits that adult musicians experienced... They saw that these folks had greater amounts of gray matter in their brains. Gray matter in your brain is where the clusters of nerve cells live. It's responsible for much of our brain's functions, including muscle control, memory, vision, hearing, emotions, and decision-making.
Most studies show more benefits for those who played instruments as children. However, starting later in life yields benefits, too. Research from the University of South Florida found that folks between 65 and 80 who started learning to play the piano improved their memory and other cognitive functions.
Dopamine levels increase during deep meditation as well. Adding music to your daily meditation is a great way to improve relaxation.
Do what I do... Try taking some time each day to turn on a few tunes and enjoy them with a cup of tea or a glass of wine.
If you need some inspiration for feel-good music, the song that always puts me in a good mood is "And the Beat Goes On" by The Whispers (listen here).
And remember, part of what triggers the dopamine response is each person's personal preferences. Asking my team for what music makes them happy brought up a wide range of answers... from instrumental alternative rock (like this) to Korean pop music and classics like Glen Campbell.
Let us know what kind of music puts you most at ease by writing to us (click here).
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
December 22, 2017
P.S. This is one of the lifestyle tips we offer each month in Retirement Millionaire. If you want more tips on how to live a healthier, wealthier life, start your subscription today.
Recently, I told subscribers about a one-time cash event that could put billions of dollars directly in the hands of ordinary Americans. Click here to learn more.