Music has strong potential to optimize heart health, and research continues to illuminate the many ways that music can influence our physiology.
Listening to preferred music is associated with changes in brain structures which promote healthy heart activity, such as the hypothalamus, amygdala, insular cortex, and orbitofrontal cortex (Koelsch, 2014). I learned firsthand the incredible ways that music can impact the human body while working in the hospital.
Using the concept of entrainment as a basis, there is evidence that our heart rate changes in response to the tempo of the music we are listening to. Have you ever noticed that your heart races after hearing a fast song? Or that you can feel your body slowing when listening to a lullaby or ballad? I loved being able to use this technique when I worked in the NICU with premature infants. I could monitor the beat of the baby’s heart, match it rhythmically, and then slow my playing. As I slowed my playing, I could watch the baby’s heartbeat slow down with me. This affirmed that music impacts us both physiologically and psychologically.
While we still have much to learn about how music can impact the body, we know that music has the ability to increase heart rate variability, improve the heart’s responsiveness to medication, help heart rate and blood pressure levels to return to baseline more quickly after physical exertion, and increase or decrease heart rate.
Here are 5 ways you can incorporate music into your life to optimize your heart health:
1. Make a playlist of relaxation songs
- Curate a playlist of songs that relax you and soothe your mind and body. Try to select music that is 80 bpm or lower. You can find the BPM of a song by Googling, or using this database.
- Listen to your playlist before bed, during a bath, while meditating, or to facilitate gentle stretching to slow your breathing, lower your heart rate, and increase your circulation.
2. Sing or hum
Singing requires deep, diaphragmatic breathing, and has been shown to reduce cortisol, improve heart rate variability, and promotes better circulation: all helpful for your heart! Turn on a playlist of your favorite songs to sing, hop in the car, and let yourself jam out! Try this playlist of songs to sing in the car!
3. Make a playlist of songs that comfort you when you feel stressed
Our body’s stress response includes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, the activation and release of stress hormones, and an immunological system reaction to stress. Numerous studies have shown that music has the ability to relieve stress, particularly music that we already know and love. Try making a playlist of songs that helps you to move through your stress experience. Start with songs that match your mood, and slowly move to songs that are comforting and grounding.
4. Listen to motivating music to support your workouts!
Make a playlist of upbeat songs that motivate you, inspire you, and are connected to positive memories. Try looking through songs from your teenage years, or songs that are tied to happy moments in your life when selecting. Music should be upbeat (90 to 120 bpm), and have a steady beat.
5. Schedule a music-assisted relaxation
Many studies have shown that music-assisted relaxations can improve heart health by decreasing stress and increasing feelings of comfort and relaxation. Schedule a guided meditation session to care for your mind and body!