5 Surprising Health Benefits of Music

By Laura Newcomer |

Turn on the tunes to build strength, ease pain, and more!


Music is powerful. We listen to it to get pumped up for a workout, unwind after a stressful day, or express ourselves emotionally. All of these effects have a scientific explanation, and further research has uncovered more surprising health perks of music.

“Music can be very, very powerful with regards to physical, mental, and cognitive well-being,” says Sharon Broadley-Martin, associate professor at Berklee College of Music and a fitness instructor.

It's a medicine that's readily available to virtually everyone at little or no cost, without any negative side effects. Here are five compelling reasons to turn on some tunes.

Benefit #1: It’ll Help Ease Your Pain

Listening to pleasing music can reduce the perceived intensity of pain, Broadley-Martin says. Researchers aren't entirely sure why this happens, but studies consistently find it's true-for both acute pain, like soreness after a workout, and chronic pain, like arthritis or disc problems.

Music therapy can be especially helpful after surgery or during cancer-related procedures such as chemotherapy. A study in the European Journal of Anesthesiology found that patients who listened to music after surgery experienced less anxiety and pain, and required significantly less morphine than those who recovered in silence.

Classical music proved most beneficial, but experts agree the patient's own music taste matters most. Just avoid heavy metal or techno. They're ineffective and may even lead to elevated stress levels.

Benefit #2: It’ll Make You Stronger

Listening to catchy music while you exercise can motivate you to work harder and longer, according to a study in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.

Your fitness motivation may be correlated to the beats per minute (BPM) of the songs you listen to, Broadley-Martin says. There’s some evidence that our heartbeat syncs with musical beats during exercise. Up-tempo songs (130 to 145 BPM) help you hit your max heart rate and power through the most challenging parts of class. Slower songs (less than 120 BPM) are best for cooldown periods.

Beyond these scientific explanations, Broadley-Martin points out that listening to music often makes exercise more fun. And that alone can motivate you to keep doing it.

Benefit #3: It’ll Make You Smarter

The next time you're struggling to finish a crossword puzzle, turn on some Mozart! Music can help people access more clarity of mind and enable constructive thinking, Broadley-Martin says. And researchers agree.

A range of studies have shown that playing background music can improve cognitive function, whether it’s allowing a test taker to answer more questions correctly or increasing linguistic and spatial processing speed.

Music may even help people with dementia retain new information. Research from Boston University School of Medicine found that Alzheimer's patients who were put through a series of memory tests learned more lyrics when they were set to music rather than just spoken. The study was small-only 32 subjects-but the results could lead to a new way of helping Alzheimer's patients remember things required for maintaining their independence. For example, a simple ditty might help patients remember which medications to take when.

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Benefit #4: It’ll Help You Fall (and Stay) Asleep

Listening to calming music before bed can help you drift off to dreamland, even if you have a sleep disorder. And the benefits don’t stop once you’re snoozing. According to a study from Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary, playing relaxing classical music in the background improves sleep quality—so you wake up feeling well rested.

Experts often recommend this method of inducing quality sleep to nurses and medical professionals, but you can use it yourself by turning on classical music at a low volume as you settle into bed.

Benefit #5: It’ll Help Heal Your Brain

Researchers in Finland concluded that when stroke patients listened to music for two hours per day, their verbal memory and attention improved, and they had a more positive mood compared to patients who didn't listen to music or who listened to audiobooks. The key is to choose music that's especially pleasing to you and to listen every day.

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