Maybe you have a certain song that evokes memories, or a kind of music that consistently lifts your mood or relaxes you. Studies show that when we engage with music, we are doing something positive for our health.
Whether playing music or listening to it, melodies and rhythms seem to activate various parts of the brain involved in thinking, sensation, movement and emotion.
How Can Music Help?
“Listening to or playing music releases endorphins, which are known to reduce stress and anxiety, and in some cases, even pain,” said Maureen English-Cremeans, family nurse practitioner with Samaritan Palliative Care. She is also a lifelong musician who now plays old time fiddle and banjo.
While more research is needed to fully understand how the arts affect the brain, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that musical engagement can help lower blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates, pain intensity and anxiety while also improving behavior, motor skills, mood, mental alertness and more.
As someone who plays music socially with friends, English-Cremeans knows firsthand what playing an instrument does for her.
“Music engages my emotions and brain and, particularly when playing an instrument, also creates connections between the two hemispheres of the brain, which can help improve cognitive skills,” she said.
She also finds that music helps her feel more connected to others.
“For me, when I’m playing music, I’m also connecting with the people I play with, listening to and watching them, and forgetting all the things I might be worried about. Those worries just melt away and I’m caught up in the moment,” she said.
This “being in the moment” can bring a person temporary relief from pain.
“While focused on the music you aren’t able to pay attention to the pain,” noted English-Cremeans. “The endorphin release can help you feel better, too.”
Add Music to Your Life
If music isn’t a regular part of your life, consider ways you could spend time with music on a more regular basis. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Listen More to What You Love
“I find that if I feel a little down, putting on some upbeat music that I like will get me up and dancing around and singing along, and will help me feel better,” said English-Cremeans.
Or you may have a particular music that relaxes you and helps you feel peaceful.
“Consider curating a playlist for yourself on whatever device you prefer of the music that works in relaxing you or lifting your spirits. I still play CDs and just keep a stack of my favorites nearby,” she said.
If you live with others who don’t like your musical tastes, invest in a nice pair of earphones.
Singing in the shower is a good start, but you don’t have to keep it there. Join a choir. Many community choirs or church choirs, even online choirs, allow open participation to anyone who enjoys singing, no matter their ability. In these groups, you’ll also enjoy a social aspect of connecting with others.
Take Up an Instrument
It’s not too late to learn how to play an instrument, or to re-engage with one you used to play as a kid. If cost is an issue, look for used instruments through a local music store, estate sales, or online. A local music store will often know of instructors who give lessons. Just remember that learning an instrument takes time. You cannot expect to learn as quickly as you did as a kid, so be patient with yourself.
Attend Live Music Opportunities
Communities often have free or low-cost concerts, especially in summer months at local parks and outside venues. Make going to these events a priority. Grab a coffee and enjoy a local musician playing at your favorite farmers’ market. Consider attending a symphony concert, or a local band playing at a night club. You may even find musicians playing at your local Samaritan hospital. In the summer months, look for Tunes of the Terrace, Tuesdays at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center.
There are many ways to add more music to your life, some of which may seem more natural to you than others. The key is to find something that fits well into how you live. Soon, you could be toe-tapping your way into a more healthful life.