The Positive Influence Of Music On Our Health And Wellbeing
A wealth of research in recent years has demonstrated music to have a uniquely positive impact on our mental health, functioning, and wellbeing. Whether it is playing a musical instrument or going to concerts with friends, music can foster a sense of belonging and promote better brain health as we age. This article explores the relationship between music and our wider health outcomes.
It goes without saying that there is far more to life than working, sleeping, eating, and attending to our other basic needs. Many of us have hobbies that we are deeply passionate about; indeed, these are the things that make life feel truly special and exciting for many of us. Some of us like to read or watch movies; you might prefer to play roulette or poker to pass the time, instead. And many of us around the world are deeply passionate about music.
Whether it is playing music, listening to different bands, or going to concerts, music is perhaps one of the greatest uniting forces the world has ever known. No matter where you are from or what you do, you no doubt have songs and artists that have meant a great deal to you, or who have been the soundtrack to an important or especially memorable time in your life.
And its experiences and relationships like these that make life feel truly magical. The passion that so many of us feel for music is something that elevates life above the mundane and boring, giving it a sense of balance, which is a vital part of maintaining good mental health more generally.
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One major way that music can have a positive influence on our wellbeing is through the impact learning or playing an instrument can have on our brain health, especially as we age.
In fact, research has shown that, like learning a language, playing a musical instrument can make an enormous difference to our overall neurological wellbeing, even preventing or staving off the progression of degenerative conditions like Parkinsons. When we play an instrument, we have to use each and every part of our nervous system in different ways, which keeps these functions engaged and responsive as we get older.
For example, the physical coordination required to perform on an instrument engages our peripheral nervous system, which allows us to use our hands asynchronously or independently of one another (something that many people struggle with!). Improvising in particular is great for the brain, because it forces us to make decisions and judgements on the fly with the use of our executive function.
All of this, combined with the deep visual and auditory input that music offers us, makes playing music an absolute experiential cornucopia for the brain.
Music is something that inspires a great deal of passion in many of us… for better or for worse. Indeed, this has been and continues to be a major contributor to the censorship of music worldwide, which is often spurred on by concerns surrounding a particular piece of music’s political or social significance.
The reasons that many of us find music so moving are far more complex than you might have thought, too. There is actually a set of complex biological and neurophysiological responses behind the way in which we respond to pieces of music that we hear.
For example, music has been shown to stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain, a chemical which has been linked to producing feelings of pleasure. Not only does it also cause our brains to produce oxytocin, the hormone responsible for feelings of love, but some evidence suggests that music can also lower the levels of cortisol, often referred to as the ‘stress hormone,’ in our bodies.
Another reason music can have such a beneficial impact on our mental health is through the sense of belonging it can foster. Countless subcultures exist around the world for hardcore fans of different music genres to connect with one another through distinctive styles of dress, going to concerns together, and so on.
And feelings of belonging are vital for our mental wellbeing. This is a phenomenon with ancient roots; during the hunter-gatherer era, if we failed to gain the approval of the wider tribe, then this would lead to our being rejected and ostracized. Hunter-gatherers were dependent on one another for survival, so, rejection at this level would have meant certain death as a result.
Fortunately, the situation is less dire in modern times, but feeling misunderstood, or like one is an outsider, can still take a significant toll on our mental health. Music subcultures provide countless people around the world with a crucial sense of belonging that they otherwise might not find in the wider society that they belong to.