Listening to music is a common leisure activity, made especially convenient with the variety of portable music players available to consumers. However, besides being an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, an evening, or a commute to work, listening to music may actually have some health-related implications. One relationship which has been studied is the effect that listening to music has on blood pressure; interestingly, different studies have come to different conclusions.
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Music May Lower Blood Pressure
The Cochrane Collaboration, in their Database of Systematic Reviews, examined the relationship between listening to music and the impact on patients with heart disease. This was done by critically reviewing studies that looked at this relationship, based on previously-established criteria to assess the quality of the studies. Twenty-three studies were included in the final results, and the authors of the review concluded that, based on these studies, patients with heart disease may benefit from listening to music in that their blood pressure will decrease. Since elevated blood pressure --hypertension -- is itself a risk factor for heart problems, lowering blood pressure in a person with heart disease is an important health-related goal. Based on this analysis of nearly two dozen studies, patients who listen to music may find that their blood pressure level goes down.
Music May Raise Blood Pressure
While it may seem paradoxical that music may raise or lower blood pressure, at least one study has found that this is indeed the case. A small study, done at the University of Maryland Medical Center, found that the type of music patients listen to--divided into “joyful” or “anxiety-provoking” categories -- may influence dilation of blood vessels. The relationship between blood vessel dilation and blood pressure is quite direct. Vasodilation may result in a lowering of blood pressure, because the blood vessels are more relaxed while vasoconstriction, or contraction of the blood vessel, may cause a rise in blood pressure.
This small study looked at the amount of vessel dilation that was measured while patients listened to music that the patients themselves had previously labeled as “joyful” or “anxiety-provoking.” The results of the study showed that when patients listened to music that they considered joyful, a small amount of blood vessel dilation was seen, which could in turn result in a slight decrease in blood pressure. However, when exposed to the music that they had considered more stressful, or anxiety-producing, a decrease in blood vessel dilation was seen. This conclusion is interesting because it suggests that listening to music, rather than having a soothing, relaxing effect on the body and thus the blood pressure, may in fact result in the opposite effect.
As noted above, this is a very small study -- only ten patients were included -- however, it is worth noting because it suggests that music that is associated with a negative emotional state -- anxiety -- may actually result in increased blood pressure. So patients with high blood pressure who are interested in trying a music-based intervention may want to avoid music that they associate with stress or anxiety.
Music May Not Change Blood Pressure
As noted by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, in their review study published in 2001, although there is some evidence to suggest a link between listening to music and a decrease in blood pressure, the quality of the evidence was not considered to be particularly high. This suggests the very real possibility that a music “intervention”--listening to music in an attempt to improve health outcomes -- may not actually change anything. Further evidence indicating that in some cases music does not influence blood pressure comes in the form of a study published in the “Journal of Hypertension" in 2010. This study found that certain patient-specific factors may predict that music will have no effect on blood pressure. Specifically, the authors of this study found that patients who were especially happy -- and potentially already relaxed -- were found to benefit less from a music-related intervention. While it would be incorrect to conclude from this study that music will never affect blood pressure, the study illustrates an important point--namely, that not all patients will respond to music in a way that changes their blood pressure.