Medically reviewed by:
Beth Salcedo, MD
The Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, LLC
Washington, DC 20015
Patients having an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test must lie very still for 30 to 60 minutes, often enclosed inside the machine's tube. Because of that, the most valuable piece of equipment in MRI testing often isn't the multimillion-dollar scanner. It's something that costs far less—the headphones that many centers put on patients so they can listen to their favorite music while undergoing the test.
The music makes time seem to pass more quickly and enjoyably. It also serves an important health function by lowering stress and reducing anxiety.
A 2013 review of scientific studies of music notes, "The notion that 'music is medicine' has roots that extend deep into human history…." Although it's an old idea, there has been little solid research to back the scientific claims that music influences health.1
The researchers from McGill University examined studies looking at the neurochemical changes caused by music. They found that much of the research had limitations and produced weak evidence, but studies did support some solid health benefits:
- Music can reduce stress, protect against disease and manage pain, similarly to some other lifestyle choices.
- Music can help regulate heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature and muscle tension.
- After surgery, listening to self-selected music may lower endocrine stress responses during recovery.
- By reducing stress and improving mood, music may enhance the body's immune function, which can lessen the effects of aging.
A 2015 study from the University of Montreal also shows that singing is the best way to soothe cranky babies, keeping them calm five minutes longer than baby talk. Because music can calm both adults and children, the findings suggest that singing or playing music for cranky babies could help prevent child abuse among at-risk parents.
More studies are needed to determine the specific effects of music on health. Research may eventually show that music is no more effective than other forms of distraction or mood enhancement, such as watching a movie or walking the dog.
But, one thing's for sure: music is convenient, inexpensive, natural and easy for anyone to try.
Whether or not you can carry a tune or play an instrument, you can benefit from the power of music. Sing out loud at home, in the car or with a group; take a music player along when you go for a medical test or procedure; and remember to turn on your favorite tunes when stress intensifies.
Your body and spirit will feel the difference.