Proper functioning of the endothelium -- which is made up of cells that line the inside of blood vessels -- is vital to good heart health and protective against atherosclerosis. Exercise has long been known to promote good endothelial functioning, and now researchers have identified another factor that could be useful for people with coronary artery disease: Music.
The new research, presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2013, shows that people with coronary artery disease who listen to their favorite music have improved endothelial functioning, marked by circulated blood markers.
The study included 74 people with stable coronary artery disease; 33 of them were assigned to undergo three weeks of aerobic exercise, 31 were assigned to undergo three weeks of aerobic exercise in addition to listening to their favorite music for half an hour each day, and 10 of them were just assigned to listen to their favorite music for half an hour each day.
Researchers analyzed circulating levels of nitric oxide, symmetric dimethylarginine, asymmetric dimethylarginine and xanthine oxidase, which are all considered markers of endothelial functioning.
While all groups experienced improvements in at least one or some of the biomarkers, researchers found that in general, the patients assigned to listen to music and exercise had the greatest improvements.
"The combination of music and exercise training led to the most improvement in endothelial function. Improvements in endothelial function were associated with significant improvements in exercise capacity," study researcher Deljanin Ilic said in a statement. "Listening to joyful music for 30 minutes has been associated with improved endothelial function, possibly by [beta]-endorphin mediated activation of endothelium derived nitric oxide. The vascular health benefits of music may be due to endorphins or endorphin like compounds released from the brain when we hear music we like."
Because the study has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, the findings should be considered preliminary. But still, other studies have shown heart health benefits of listening to music, including one conducted by University of Maryland Medical Center researchers suggesting that it could lower blood pressure to the same extent as cutting back on sodium in your diet, Health.com reported. Plus, a University of Arizona study showed that listening to harp music in particular can help to stabilize blood pressure among patients staying in an intensive care unit.