A research published in JAMA Network Open shows that music could prevent 800,000 avoidable deaths annually by decreasing anxiety and improving overall wellbeing, and provides the first numerical evidence of music’s clinical importance.
After discovering strong evidence that musical engagement enhances general wellbeing and health, decreasing anxiety, and improving mood, University of New South Wales (UNSW) scientists determined that music could avert an estimated 800,000 avoidable deaths each year.
According to a UNSW news release, Matt McCrary, Adjunct Lecturer at UNSW’s Prince of Wales Clinical School and co-author of the study that published music’s effect said engaging with music induces an emotional response that has a physiological component. This response can be induced by any activity, such as singing, listening, or playing an instrument.
According to McCrary, reasons for music’s ability to generate emotional responses are highly discussed. However, it appears that the potential is tied to the emotional bond that develops between musicians who create sound with emotional intent and the listeners who receive those emotions.
According to McCrary, emotional responses to music engage different parts of the brain as well as the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls involuntary functions like breathing and heart rate. He claims that most musical engagements cause a ‘fight or flight’ response, which is followed by a ‘rest and digest’ response when the music stops.
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“My working hypothesis is that repeatedly engaging with music and eliciting these autonomic nervous system activation patterns increases our ability to respond effectively to stress, which in turn improves our overall health and wellbeing.”
Furthermore, the activation patterns of the ANS in response to music are comparable to those seen when exercising, however the responses produced by exercise are of higher amplitude, according to McCrary.
“The most exciting thing about these results is the insights they provide into the potential impact of music on our overall health. For example, exercise is associated with the prevention of 1.6 million annual deaths,” McCrary said.
“If music can have half this impact, we’re looking at the prevention of 800,000 annual avoidable deaths. So, the potential here is exciting if we can figure out how to target and maximise music’s effects,” he explained.
The study’s key finding, according to McCrary, was that music had a significant beneficial impact on people’s health-related quality of life (HRQOL), which is a statistic that roughly represents general health and wellbeing. According to him, the influence of music on HRQOL is around half that of exercise.
According to McCrary, one of the primary hypothesis his team is now investigating is whether persistent music engagement can help prevent non-transmittable diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer.
“Accordingly, the magnitude of music’s impact on health-related quality of life gives us a rough estimate of its potential impact on non-communicable disease mortality,” said McCrary.
“In terms of pairing music and exercise (i.e. when dancing) or which type of music engagement is best for health, these are still very much open and unanswered questions that we’re currently researching,” McCrary said.
He also stated that music might be used to treat anxiety and depression in those who are addicted to a substance, and that existing research demonstrates that music can help these people improve their health outcomes.
However, the study’s researchers realized that music’s impact differed widely among people, as evidenced by the study’s findings.
“At present, this is a huge limitation, as ‘prescribing’ a certain type of music for any one individual is likely to produce a wide range of responses from ‘no effect’ to ‘large effects’,” McCrary said.
“We’re aiming to address this variability in upcoming research projects by targeting emotional responses to the music (e.g. enjoyment, relaxation) vs. specific types of music (e.g. classical, pop).”
However, the study’s research failed to mention ways to enhance musical treatment, such as how long or how often a patient should listen to music.
Given the existing limitations of musical treatment, McCrary believes that much more work is needed before music can be reliably administered to a person with optimal health advantages. He did say, however, that the research helps to better understand the overall influence of music on health.
According to him, the next step in realizing music’s potential in health care is to create a framework that allows for trustworthy prescriptions that maximize music’s impact on patient health.
“This framework has been developed theoretically, adapting key insights from the development of reliable exercise prescriptions,” McCrary said.
“The immediate next step is to empirically test this prescription framework and see if it can consistently produce positive health outcomes in various real-world settings, for example, clinical rehabilitation and public health programs.”
This study, he claimed, provides the first numerical evidence of music’s clinically important impact on wellbeing and HRQOL.
“Previous systematic reviews used narrative methods to synthesize the broad range of, often conflicting, results regarding music’s health impact,” said McCrary.
“This is to say, this study aimed to be very direct and quantitative, taking a ‘cold’, impartial approach to music’s effects, and I wasn’t sure that the impact of music on health-related quality of life (HRQOL) would be quantifiably significant.”
For the first time, he added, the influence of music on health could be examined and contextualized against currently used approaches for enhancing HRQOL, such as weight reduction and exercise. The researchers were able to do so by focusing on studies that used the SF-36, the most popular short-form (SF) health survey, which has 36 items as the name suggests.
However, according to McCary, there is currently no proof that certain types of music have a greater impact on your health.
“The most impactful music on health and wellbeing appears to be the music that you like the most, as playing and listening to it corresponds to the strongest emotional and physiologic response,” said McCrary. “For some, this may be classical music, and for others, it may be heavy metal.”
In JAMA Network Open, Matt McCrary and his colleagues published the findings of their study (pdf given below) on the impact of musical involvement on health-related quality of life (HRQOL). There were 26 studies that were eligible for the study, with a total of 779 participants.
Read the findings below: