There you are...after a rough day at work/school...headphones on, bouncing up and down in front of your mirror,
screeching singing in blissful ignorance at the top of your voice. I'm sure you're familiar with the magic that music is doing to your mood (and your neighbour's last nerve) in that moment, but have you ever stopped to consider other ways in which music is improving your life?
Not that you need more excuses to crank up your favorite tunes, but it is interesting to actually think about how music is making your life better. We have a tendency to forget how much it saturates so many facets of our lives, and just what effect it's having on us.
So here are five benefits of listening to music that you'll want to smugly tell the next person that questions your obsession.
- It Makes You Healthier
Several respected medical genius-types (not named Dr. Dre) have acknowledged the impressive effect music has on the body's immune system, which in turn means you'll be able to fight off sickness better.
You can find several articles littered around the interwebs like this one from Medical Daily which claims a research group reviewed over 400 scientific documents on the matter and concluded that:
- Music listeners had an increase of a particular antibody that lives in the digestive tract and lungs and helps to fight off infections
- They had higher numbers of "natural killer cells", a ninja-style immune cell type that attacks bacteria, infected cells and cancerous cells.
- They had reduced levels of cortisol – the stress hormone that can weaken the immune system.
And, apparently, it doesn't just work for common ailments like colds. Their findings suggested it was more effective in reducing stress before surgery than prescription medicine.
So whad'ya know, listening to all those One Direction singles may just be helping your cells fight off som...errrmmm, ok let's not get ahead of ourselves here!
- It Helps You Exercise
Aside from passing the obligatory "If the Huffington Post said it, then it must be true" evidence test, this can be easily proven by any gym head, experienced or novice, who has a gym playlist on his or her iPod or phone labelled "Beastmode"...just me?
But seriously, it isn't just the fact that music gives you something to move to. It can really help you push through the pain of exercise and work past fatigue by helping your brain zone it out. For those of us self-conscious gym novices, stick on a track with an unrelenting rhythm loud in your headphones and see if it doesn't help you stand up a bit straighter, try a bit harder and block everything and everyone else out and train like your ass is on fire! That's why EDM or trap music are a staple of gym sound-systems.
As the good people at HuffPost have pointed out, there are numerous neuro-chemical benefits unleashed on the body by combining both music and exercise. But if you're still unconvinced, check this out...they describe a study where 34 cardiac rehab patients underwent an exercise programe, a third of which had a music playlist specifically targeted to match the tempo of the song with their pace. Those in that sub-group were able to exercise well over 250 minutes more than the other two-thirds each week...*mic drop*
- It Helps You Remember Things
Picture those scenes in BBC's Sherlock where the titular character plays violin as a way of unlocking memories from his subconscious and piece together a difficult case. I'm sure a lot of us watched those scenes and assumed this was just one of Sherlock's bizarre, method-to-the-madness, genius techniques.
However, music is known to trigger memories and even cause hidden or forgotten memories to resurface. There are increasing reports that sufferers of Alzheimer's or dementia are able to remember their wedding day or concerts they went to in their youth, just by listening to a song that sparks that long-lost memory.
Anyone remember those annoying songs you used to sing as a kid, whether while watching Sesame Street, or learning your ABCs, or at Sunday school...or those episodes of South Park you sneakily watched? Annoyingly difficult to forget, right? There is something about the combination of melody and information that writes things on your brain in permanent marker.
So why not use that to your advantage? Got a test or exam to revise for? Forgotten where you left your keys 5 seconds ago? Get your Sherlock on.
- It Helps With Sleep
Classical music is known to have a lot of different benefits, though sleep enhancement is kind of a surprising one. After all, most people don't really want a whole lot of noise as they're drifting off into dreamland.
Yet, classical music is unique from most of the music you may listen to. It generally has an absence of loud and abrupt percussion, and often slow moving musical parts, which gives it its calming qualities. This is the very reason it's often piped in the background in hospital or dental waiting rooms, lifts, exam halls, surgeries, etc.
Basically anywhere where there is the potential of someone freaking out and losing their minds from stress or worry, you will find classical music because it often encourages the listeners to unclench muscles and lower heart rate. Think of it like Kaa, the snake from Jungle Book, sending you to sleep, singing "Trusssssst in meeeeeee"...ok slightly scary, but you get the drift.
So not only can classical improve your sleep quality, it's also known to help with insomnia. Just keep in mind that electronic gadgets can have the opposite effect on your sleep. So if you're listening from your phone, you might want to put that badboy on its face!
- It Makes You More Productive
I'm sure many of us were challenged in our adolescence by well-meaning adults; baffled at our insistence of doing "serious" work while listening to music – "You can't possibly concentrate with all that loud racket!" If you're anything like I was, you knew they were wrong, but couldn't exactly explain why.
As with point 2 on exercise, music is such a powerful tool to help us zone out all distractions and focus on the task in hand, especially for those of us with short(er) attention spans. However, you have to choose the type of music carefully as described in this great article from Helpscout.
So I inadvertently put this to the test. While working on this article, I'd been listening to the new album "Imani Vol.1" by Blackalicious – a group I've been a big fan of for about a decade. However, on the first couple of listens, I couldn't concentrate on the article at all, unable to formulate ideas I liked and frustrated at my lack of progress.
Why? Because the part of my brain tasked with learning, formulating ideas and opinions and analysing info was...well too busy dissecting new music! My brain's processor was analysing every metaphor, verse and concept. The emotional centres were invested in which songs moved me and how they made me feel. My memory banks were engaged, forming an opinion on the album and how it measured against the great records they've put out in the past. Basically multi-tasking on steroids...my writer's brain had no chance!
However, when I put on records I had already been listening to for a few weeks (Disclosure's "Caracal"), months (Oddisee's "The Beauty in All") or years (OutKast's "ATLiens"), the difference was stark. I was on fire, working on the article like a man possessed! Why? Because my brain had already done it's work and stored these songs in it's "That's my jam!" file. Therefore, my full focus was on the work I had to do, while my emotions enjoyed the overall feeling these records gave and my head and body moved in time to the music. Distractions and stress were minimal, maybe because my sub-conscious associated the work with the enjoyment of the music.
Think of music as a real-life version of Neo being plugged into the Matrix, that zone where you're focused on one goal, working at the height of your powers. There must be a reason why surgeons reportedly work quicker and more accurately when listening to music they already like, as reported in this article at Inc.com.
If it's good enough for surgeons, then take that, kill-joy managers and supervisors! ...wait, what do you mean, I'm fired??
There are actually a lot of other ways in which music can make your day-to-day better.
So let's not take music for granted. Even though it's available in abundance, we should still appreciate the incredible benefits it brings to our lives.
Next time you crank up your favourite record, take a moment to think of how much smarter, healthier, peaceful, hard-working...and downright more interesting it's making you!
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