Did your parents make you take music lessons when you were a kid? I had to learn to play the piano. At the time, I considered it sheer torture. Especially since my piano lessons with Mrs. Mauthe included bicycling past the meanest dogs in the neighborhood. No matter how hard I pedaled, they always seemed to catch up, nipping at my heels and terrorizing me for a full block until I reached my teacher’s driveway. Then another form of torture ensued…piano lessons! In spite of my youth-filled drama, I decided to give it another go and I’m reteaching myself how to play minus the task-master teacher and the crazed canines. It’s a bit arduous, but there is something calming about a music filled house. Science seems to agree especially for those dealing with combat related challenges.
Science of Sound
It’s an interesting phenomenon that no matter where you go — at airports, in waiting rooms, at the gym, on the sidelines, or even walking down the street — every ear seems to be wired for sound. I’ve often wondered what are they tuning in, or ever more importantly, what are they tuning out? Music, in one form or another, has been with us since the very beginning of mankind. From the rhythmic sounds of the ocean to the melodic communication between song birds, nature gave us our first orchestra. The ancient Greeks interconnected science and art as the origin of “music” came from the greek gods they worshiped called the muse while Pythagoras experimented with acoustical sounds and math. In our modern times, scientists are connecting even more musical notes to further understand some of the benefits documented so far:
- Alleviating Stress & Anxiety — upbeat tempos and lively beats have been shown to have a positive impact on heart rate, breathing and energy levels.
- Reducing Pain — opiods in the brain control physical and emotional pain and seem to be influenced by music thus potentially disrupting pain signals.
- Accelerating Healing — increases in endorphin levels, natural pain relievers, and a corresponding increase in immune function benefit the healing process.
- Improving Mood - researchers have found that cortisol levels (the stress hormone) decrease with soothing songs.
- Increasing Cognition — music and lyrics seem to stimulate both hemispheres of the brain and have been shown to be an effective additional therapy for Alzheimer patients.
Beyond its physical healing benefits, music has also been shown to improve performance and endurance during exercise and physical activity. Apparently, there is a “sweet spot” when it comes to the music that moves you. According to British sports psychologist, Dr. Costas Karageorghis, a tempo between 120–140 beats per minute may translate into a 15% increase in endurance and reduce perceived exertion resulting in a better workout experience. The best advice is to pick songs that match your heart rate. Slow songs that build up in intensity would be a great match for a warmup. The peak of your workout may match a personally entertaining and inspiring song — my personal favorite is the theme song from Rocky. I’ve just got to move whenever I hear that music! For a cool down, dial up some slower melodies. Another tip is to vary your workouts with and without music. You may be training for a triathlon with your tunes only to find that your ipod isn’t allowed on the course at race time. Be aware of your environment as well. If you are running or biking on busy roads, leave the music at home. You’ll need all of your senses to stay safe and tuned in to oncoming traffic or other hazards like those pesky neighborhood dogs!
I actually love to sing although I am a self-confessed shower siren. Singing in public, even at church truly intimidates me. A few years ago, I decided to overcome my fear and took some singing lessons. I may not win a prize for my vocals but have certainly found my voice and can belt out a tune with the best of them. I recently spoke with Voices of Valor, a non-profit organization that works with military veterans to help them reintegrate into civilian life through music. Their eight week program, taught by music professionals, teaches participants how to:
- Identify the daily stresses they face
- Translate their experiences into song lyrics
- Create a song through proper structure and form
- Use music as a relaxation tool
- Use music to work through negative or stressful experiences
The other cool part of the program is that no musical experience is required. Currently the programs are available in New York and New Jersey with a goal to expand the program to more cities. You can learn more about Voices of Valor and support their work through their website: www.voicesofvalor.org
La De Da De Da
However the music moves you, even if it moves you ugly, finding ways to incorporate your favorite tunes into your day will go a long way toward maintaining and improving your health — body, mind and spirit.
“Let us make a joyful noise!”
Copyright © 2013 by Christine A.Toriello, all rights reserved.