Hit the gym or press play — new findings suggest pumping up the jams could be as powerful for your mental state as pumping iron.
Any music lover may tell you that bopping along to your favorite song is a surefire way to feel better, but a scientific review published in JAMA concludes that music’s benefit to mental health is actually comparable to that of exercise. In other words — singing your heart out in the shower could be as good for your mind as a jog around the block. While that alone may thrill those who don’t love the gym, music therapists note broader implications.
Researchers analyzed data from 26 studies involving a combined 779 adult participants. Each study measured the impact of making and listening to music on health-related quality of life (HRQOL). The review found “moderate-quality quantitative evidence of associations between music interventions and clinically significant changes in mental HRQOL.” After comparing that evidence to data on other approaches, the authors noted that the results are within the range of the “average effects of established non–pharmaceutical and medical interventions (e.g., exercise, weight loss).”
Research has long shown that the increased blood flow, adrenaline, and other physiological processes exercise invokes can improve sleep, self-esteem, and mood. While the JAMA review doesn’t detail the processes that make music similarly beneficial to mental health, Elisha Ellis Madsen, a board-certified music therapist and founder of Feel Creative Wellness sheds some light.
“Both music listening and active music-making have been shown to activate the dopaminergic pathways,” she told Nice News. Those pathways are involved in cognitive processes like executive functioning and motivation — which is why an upbeat tune may put you in the mood to clean, and classical music may help you focus.
The review looked at studies on recreational music interventions as well as those involving clinical music therapy, which is wide-ranging in its applications. For example, the Pacifier-Activated Lullaby has helped develop feeding skills in premature babies, while therapeutic music programs have improved chronic pain in adults living with terminal illnesses.
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Madsen suggested that reviews like this could even aid in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. She pointed to Goal Three: improving global health and well-being by 2030. “If you’re thinking about the myriad ways we can promote well-being for humans, music therapists have this modality to improve health and wellness in a way that doesn’t have any side effects,” Madsen said.
However, the review is not without limitations, including the broad nature of inclusion criteria and the possibility of bias in the studies analyzed. The authors assert that “future research is needed to clarify optimal music interventions and doses for use in specific clinical and public health scenarios.”
Another music therapist, Juliana Rocha, is also encouraged by the publication of these findings, though. “As more and more evidence-based studies are being conducted, we are seeing a substantial shift in the perceived value of music in medicine and palliative care,” she told Nice News.
Whether you enjoy lifting weights or spinning records, you can rejoice in the knowledge that evidence supports both music and exercise as healthy ways to boost your mood.