BY DR LYDIA THURTON
You are stuck in traffic, slightly annoyed that you are bumper to bumper and then your song comes on. Instantly, break light visions disintegrate into thoughts of good times. You gyrate in your seat to the beat.
Only humans are moved by music. We are unique in that way. However, what does music really do for us? It isn’t food. Or sex. We don’t need it to survive. But a life without music is almost unimaginable. Whether it is a powerful church hymn or a love song from times gone by, there are times when a song can illicit emotions even words cannot.
Researchers at McGill University in Montreal demonstrated that when we listen to our favourite song our brain is flooded with dopamine. This feel good neurotransmitter helps us make memories and feel good. Feeding your reward pathway with music is a safe way to keep your mood stable and healthy.
The playing of an instrument has been shown in research to ward off depression. Playing in a band or with others creates a synergy and meaningfulness that reinforces a positive mental state. The physical act of playing an instrument allows us to leave our mind for a bit and inhabit our bodies. That physical outlet, similar to exercise, is good for our mental health. Relating to people through music is a beautiful expression of our similarities, how connected we all are.
Music benefits our immunity. Two types of immune cells, natural killer and IgA cells are made in greater quantities when we listen to music we love. IgA protects our lungs, digestive tract and genital region form microorganism infections. Natural killer cells attack viruses. What a great way to boost your immune system.
By reducing cortisol, our major stress hormone and lowering our blood pressure, music makes us feel more relaxed. Music also blunts our response to physical pain. Patients recovering from surgery reported less pain when listening to music they enjoy. This is a great tool we can pass to younger generations. Teaching children to use music as an outlet for stress relief is a valuable coping skill in this hectic world.