Music’s role in heart health

August 1, 2009


I am a great believer in the restorative power of music and have written before about its role in helping reduce blood pressure and anxiety in cancer patients and there carers. Now it seems it can also help aftercare rehabilitation for heart and stroke patients.

One reason why this makes sense is that our blood flow and respiratory rates can actually change their rhythm to be in synch with music according to a study by Italian researchers at Pavia University and published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. They had found in an earlier study in 2006 that music with faster tempos resulted in increased breathing, heart rate and blood pressure and that when the music was paused there was a fall in all those rates.

Not sure why this is news, they just needed to have asked women who knit in time to music and find themselves racing up a sleeve whenever a military march came on the radio or they were listening to a band concert in the park and the strains of Yesterday reduced their stitch rate by half! Now they have found that swelling crescendos in the volume stimulate our body and that gradual decreases in volume makes us relax. I am sure there is an emotional component here as we respond viscerally to music which then affects our whole body systems but it is clear that music does induce a continuous, dynamic — and to some extent predictable — change in our cardiovascular system and that it is a two way process.

So if you want a healthy heart listen to music that stimulates it a little, and also offers relaxation – for myself I would add in joy as well, but that isn’t covered in the research. If you want to try the experiment for yourself they played their subjects random selections including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; an aria from Puccini’s Turandot; a Bach cantata (BMW 169); Va Pensiero from Nabucco; Libiam Nei Lieti Calici from La Traviata — as well as two minutes of silence. The profile of music (crescendo or decrescendo) was continuously tracked by the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and change was particularly marked when the music was rich in emphasis, like opera.

The technical stuff:

Every crescendo in the music led to increased narrowing of blood vessels under the skin, increased blood pressure and heart rate and increased respiration. In each music track the extent of the effect was proportional to the change in music profile.

During the silent pause, changes decreased, with blood vessels under the skin dilating and marked reductions in heart rate and blood pressure. Unlike with music, silence reduced heart rate and other variables, indicating relaxation.

Music phrases around 10 seconds long, like those used in “Va Pensiero” and “Libiam Nei Lieti Calici,” synchronized inherent cardiovascular rhythm, thus modulating cardiovascular control.

We know that music reduces stress, boosts athletic performance and enhances motor skills of people with neurological impairments and is frequently being used as a therapeutic tool for heart and stroke patients. What’s new is that this study shows that alternating between fast and slow music (crescendo and decrescendo within the same music track) may be potentially more effective.

If you are interested in the music that was used in the clinical trial at the Bristol Cancer Help Centre then visit


Article by  


What do you think of this health article by ? Join the discussion...