People often turn to music to boost their mood or relieve stress. And new research suggests there may be science supporting that practice.
The study found that listening to 30 minutes of music a day eased chest pain and anxiety in people who had recently had a heart attack.
“Based on our findings, we believe music therapy can help all patients after a heart attack. It’s also very easy and inexpensive to implement,” study author Dr. Predrag Mitrovic said in an American College of Cardiology news release. Mitrovic is a professor of cardiology at the University of Belgrade School of Medicine in Serbia.
The researchers aren’t suggesting music as someone’s only treatment, however. Music was used along with standard heart medications.
Dr. Guy Mintz, director of cardiovascular health at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., reacted to the findings.
“Music therapy may be striking the right key, giving patients further benefit beyond standard therapy,” he said. “Thirty minutes a day of listening to music reduced anxiety, pain sensation and pain distress.”
About 700,000 people survive heart attacks every year in the United States. Around one in nine survivors have episodes of chest pain and anxiety within 48 hours of their heart attack, the news release said.
Patients are often given a variety of medications to prevent future heart issues and reduce chest pain.
But the researchers wanted to see if music therapy — combined with these standard treatments — could offer patients something simple to do at home to ease pain and anxiety.
The study included 350 people with high blood pressure who had experienced a heart attack and episodes of chest pain within the two days afterward.
Half were randomly assigned to standard post-heart attack treatment. The other half received standard treatment and also were asked to participate in daily music sessions.
Before the sessions began, researchers tested volunteers to see which type of music led to positive changes in their body. They listened to nine 30-second samples of music they found soothing.
During that time, researchers measured how much the pupils in the eyes narrowed or dilated. This indicated how the music affected the body’s involuntary responses. The researchers then selected the best tone and tempo of music for volunteers to listen to.
Participants were asked to set aside 30 minutes a day to sit — ideally with eyes closed — and listen to the selected music. They did this for seven years. All received follow-up assessments every three months during the first year, and then annually.
After seven years, people in the music therapy group had greater reduction in anxiety, pain sensation and distress from pain. On average, anxiety was about one-third lower among them and chest pain symptoms were reduced by about one-quarter, the findings showed.
Dr. Satjit Bhusri is a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who reviewed the findings. He said, “It is a well-known and undertreated fact that after a heart attack, many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which involves elevated anxiety and panic attacks.”
Bhusri said this major life event leads to hypervigilance and fear. Easing that can help calm the mind and heart, promote healing and improve quality of life. Music is one way to do this, he said. Mindfulness and meditation also can help.
Dr. Peter Mercurio, a cardiologist at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., said these researchers were looking for something easy to do to help patients relax.
“Music acts on the sympathetic nervous system — [the part of the body that controls your fight or flight response] — making you feel more calm and less anxious. It lowers blood pressure,” he said.
Mercurio suggested making music part of your daily routine. For example, listen to soothing tunes for a half-hour while lying in bed before going to sleep.
If lying quietly and listening doesn’t appeal to you, he suggested listening to music while exercising — possibly doubling your heart-health effects.
“Music therapy isn’t going to have the same metrics as pills and other treatments, but whatever we can do to reduce stress in this day and age helps,” Mercurio said.
The study was to be presented at an online meeting of the American College of Cardiology and World Congress of Cardiology, March 28 to 30, 2020.
Findings from meetings are typically viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Learn more about music and health from Harvard Medical School.
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