Music is the medicine of the mind


There is no better way to start my day than putting some music on while preparing to face the rest of my day. You perhaps have been listening to music while studying, working out, to distract yourself from a stressful situation or to just celebrate happy moments with your friends. There is not a better moment of the year to turn the music on than during the Brain Awareness Week.

Even though each of us has experienced how listening or playing music helps you feel better, nowadays there is a growing research interest towards how music affects our brain. Thanks to these studies, music therapy – the clinical application of music to treat a wide range of diagnoses – has incredibly advanced over the last years and has led researchers to consider how music may improve our health and wellbeing.

However,if listening to music is good, playing music is even better. Research on neuroscience of music, shows how professional musicians’ brain is evidentially more symmetrical compared to people not playing music. Areas such as motor control, spatial coordination and auditory processing are larger and their musical abilities seem to enhance other cognitive capacities such  as learning, language, memory and neuroplasticity of various brain areas. The term neuroplasticity describes the brain’s ability to adapt and change because of training and experiences over the course of a person’s life. Furthermore, research suggests that musicians are more successful than non-musicians in incorporating new patterns for a new language into words. For instance, children who are musically trained, show stronger neuronal activation to pitch changes in speech and have a better vocabulary and reading ability compared to untrained children.  

What about the rest of us who aren’t professional musicians? Studies have shown that even a year or two of music training increases levels of memory and attention and that listening to music, especially if it is music you have chosen, can make you happier and more productive. A study showed that office workers that were allowed to listen to their favorite music, completed tasks more quickly and had more ideas and solutions compared to their counterparts who did not have the chance to choose which music to listen to.

Furthermore, almost no brain center is left untouched while listening to music, and listening to it enhances positive emotions through the rewards centers of our brain, stimulating hits of dopamine that help us feel good. It also lowers the stress hormone cortisol, lowering chronic stress and helping in preventing anxiety.

Nowadays, music-based interventions are proving to be an effective tool in treating medical diagnoses such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, stroke, NICU infants, language acquisition, dyslexia, pain management, stress and anxiety, coma, and more. As a result,  increasing funds are being assigned to this research field.

So please, do continue listening to music while training, at work, on a rainy or sunny day, when you feel sad or happy despite the Brain Awareness Week. Your brain and body will thank you.

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Bertina Kreshpaj is a physiotherapist with a major in Neurological Rehabilitation and she is soon graduating in Public Health at the International Master Program of Lund University. She is currently doing an intern at the WHO division of Policy and Governance for Health and Well-Being and has a special interest within Health Equity, more specifically in Migration and Health.

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