Music can get you moving, lift your mood, and even help you recall a memory, but can it improve your health? The National Institutes of Health and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts have partnered to expand the scope of an initiative that NIH has had with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) for several years called Sound Health. The partnership, in association with the National Endowment for the Arts, aims to:

  • expand current knowledge and understanding of how listening, performing, or creating music involves intricate circuitry in the brain that could be harnessed for health and wellness applications in daily life,
  • explore ways to enhance the potential for music as therapy for neurological disorders,
  • identify future opportunities for research, and
  • create public awareness about how the brain functions and interacts with music.

Scientists are already investigating how music can affect health. Some examples of research investigating music’s role in health include:

  • Several well-controlled studies have found that listening to music can alleviate pain or reduce the need for pain medications.
  • Other research suggests that music can benefit heart disease patients by reducing their blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety.
  • Recent studies have found evidence that singing releases substances that serve as the brain’s own natural pain-killers. Singing also increases the “bonding hormone” that helps us feel a sense of trust. And when we listen to music, levels of molecules important for fighting infection can rise.
  • Over the past decade, new brain imaging techniques have shown that music activates many unexpected brain regions. It can turn on areas involved in emotion and memory. It can also activate the brain’s motor regions, which prepare for and coordinate physical movement. For example, music is used to assist people with Parkinson’s disease walk in a steady rhythm.
  • Art therapy has been used to help prepare children for painful medical procedures, as well as to improve the speech of children with cerebral palsy and communication skills in children with autism.