05/11/2010 09:22 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

7 Ways Music Breaks Can Improve Your Health

Unplugging from the daily rigors of life and recharging with music may be one of the most beneficial things to do for your body. Recent studies have shown that music may have a beneficial effect on your body's immunity and overall health. This then gives your body a better chance to fight off disease and protect itself against the attacks of many illnesses. Below are some of the ways in which unplugging from stress and recharging with music may improve your life. But the ways in which music impacts your health may surprise you.

1. Choir singing and listening to choral music have distinctly different effects of immunity: A 2004 study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine reported the effects of choir singing versus listening on secretory IgA (S-IgA)-an antibody that protects the linings of many different organs in the body. They found that singing itself increases s-IgA and positive feeling states and decreases negative feeling states. Listening to choral music does exactly the opposite: s_IgA decreases and negative feeling states increase [1]. The next time you are at a concert or church you may want to sing along!

2. Recreational music-making improves immunity: Studies have shown that making music for recreation improves mood states and immunity in younger and older adults [2]. Specifically, recreational music making increases many of the body's fighter cells: number of lymphocytes, T cells, CD4+ T cells, memory T cells, and production of interferon-gamma and interleukin-6. These are all usually protective to the body. This study showed that these effects are especially true for older adults.

3. Music protects against cancer: A study in 2002 showed that when mice were exposed to music, it decreased the effects of stress on the immune system. Music also enhanced the immune parameters and the anti-tumor response in unstressed rodents [3]. In humans with cancer, music interventions have demonstrated efficacy for pain and fatigue [4]. Listening to music may also help fight the effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients [5].

4. Drumming improves immunity: Group drumming resulted in increased dehydroepiandrosterone-to-cortisol ratios, increased natural killer cell activity, and increased lymphokine-activated killer cell activity without alteration in plasma interleukin 2 or interferon-gamma, or in the Beck Anxiety Inventory and the Beck Depression Inventory II. This means that the body's immunity improved considerably [6].

5. Music may help ICU patients: Music may reduce pain and the need for sedation in ICU patients. Music likely also reduces alterations in the brain-body connection (hypothalamic-anterior pituitary-peripheral hormone axes) that produce cortisol and growth hormone. Thus, the stress response may be less with music. It is thought that effects of music may be partially explained through the effects of music on dopamine. It is believed that music may help critical care but the precise mechanisms are still being worked out [7]. Another study has shown that live music therapy using patient-preferred music can improve quality of life variables such as anxiety, perception of the hospitalization or procedure, relaxation, and stress in patients undergoing surgical procedures of the brain [8].

6. Piano practice increases integrity of nerve fiber tracts: A 2005 study showed that practicing piano correlated with better organization of nerve fiber tracts. Especially in children, practicing the piano led to greater integrity of these tracts, even the pyramidal tract, which is a main tract that connects the brain with the spinal cord and is essential for movement [9].

7. Music can lower blood pressure: A study from the Journal of Hypertension to be published in 2010 found that daily sessions of voluntary music-guided slow breathing significantly reduced blood pressure. This is thought to occur by mood improvement and social ties [10].

Thus, unplugging from your daily stress, taking a walk and simply singing may improve your physical and mental health significantly.

1. Kreutz, G., et al., Effects of choir singing or listening on secretory immunoglobulin A, cortisol, and emotional state. J Behav Med, 2004. 27(6): p. 623-35.
2. Koyama, M., et al., Recreational music-making modulates immunological responses and mood states in older adults. J Med Dent Sci, 2009. 56(2): p. 79-90.
3. Nunez, M.J., et al., Music, immunity and cancer. Life Sci, 2002. 71(9): p. 1047-57.
4. Kwekkeboom, K.L., Music versus distraction for procedural pain and anxiety in patients with cancer. Oncol Nurs Forum, 2003. 30(3): p. 433-40.
5. Bulfone, T., et al., Effectiveness of music therapy for anxiety reduction in women with breast cancer in chemotherapy treatment. Holist Nurs Pract, 2009. 23(4): p. 238-42.
6. Bittman, B.B., et al., Composite effects of group drumming music therapy on modulation of neuroendocrine-immune parameters in normal subjects. Altern Ther Health Med, 2001. 7(1): p. 38-47.
7. Nelson, A., et al., The impact of music on hypermetabolism in critical illness. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, 2008. 11(6): p. 790-4.
8. Walworth, D., et al., Effects of live music therapy sessions on quality of life indicators, medications administered and hospital length of stay for patients undergoing elective surgical procedures for brain. J Music Ther, 2008. 45(3): p. 349-59.
9. Bengtsson, S.L., et al., Extensive piano practicing has regionally specific effects on white matter development. Nat Neurosci, 2005. 8(9): p. 1148-50.
10. Modesti, P.A., et al., Psychological predictors of the antihypertensive effects of music-guided slow breathing. J Hypertens. 28(5): p. 1097-103.