A growing number of people have discovered how music can help dissolve their daily tension, physical problems such as migraines and the emotional problems of anxiety and depression. Music and fitness share a common bond in that they both block out or redirect stress hormones, lower blood pressure, ease anxiety, energize and sooth us and improve our focus. When music and fitness merge, an even stronger bond is formed. We as fitness and healthcare professionals have the opportunity to use this music-fitness connection in our aquatic and group exercise classes and personal training and therapy sessions. This makes us all therapists of sorts, and the end result of a class or session is a total mind/body treatment.
The healing power of music is part of the medicinal arsenal that aids us in returning to our fitness activities after an initial illness or injury. Music relaxes us, which causes the release of endorphins. These endorphins create a way to manage pain and help us return sooner to our fitness activities.
People who can benefit from music therapy are manifold. They can be both adults and children, either those who suffer from certain disabilities, or those who have chronic health problems. Advocates of this type of therapy say it works in a variety of ways, and can improve not only an individual’s emotional well being, but also help them physically, cognitively, socially and even on an aesthetic level.
Some people find it hard to communicate for a variety of different and varied reasons that are either developmental, social and/or physical, and feel that communication through or with the use of music is the best way to open up. Music is used purely as a vehicle; it’s thought that the communication between the patient and the therapist is the most crucial aspect.
Do you know a musician who is also a good athlete? I have seen many in my years of teaching and training. Playing a musical instrument can sharpen your senses, improve coordination and give you a keener sense of timing. These are also the ingredients needed in athletic training.
Two studies where music, silence and static noise were used as control factors produced interesting results. In one study, the strength of the immune system was measured against these three factors. In the group exposed to silence, their immune systems showed no response and remained at the same level. Those subjected to static noise showed a lowered immune system response, while the group that listened to music showed an increase in the strength of their immune system. When using these same three control factors in an exercise bike test, the findings were that those who listened to music traveled 11 percent farther. In yet another eight-week walking study at Ohio State University, using subjects with serious lung disease, results showed that those who listened to music walked 21 percent farther than those who did not listen to music.
One method of combining music and fitness has shown positive behavioral changes when used with autistic children. This beneficial medium is thought to be due to music’s non-verbal and non-threatening nature. One may only need to find the child’s preferred music, and then it can be utilized. There is no style of music more beneficial than another. Music that the individual is particularly fond of will always have the best therapeutic effect. Using music in a game setting perfectly combines music with fitness. These can be simple activities such as passing a ball back and forth to music. Michelle Dozois, International fitness presenter, has discovered music’s profound effect with her autistic son. Music’s mood-changing effect is apparent as it calms him. “It changes his demeanor instantly,” says Michelle. “Music wakes up the body and mind in a therapeutic way.”
Music Therapy and Heart Disease
Music therapy can also help heart patients. An American Heart Association Scientific journal reported the results of an Italian study saying that music can “synchronize and influence” the cardiovascular system, and that crescendos increased the heart rate and lowered blood pressure.
Previous studies showed that music could be used as a therapeutic tool for people with neurological impairments. The studies showed that music improved athletic performance, enhanced motor skills and reduced stress overall for people with impaired brain function.There is also evidence that music therapy can help limit nausea and vomiting experienced by cancer patients on a course of chemotherapy, and that it can help alleviate symptoms of depression and insomnia.
We know that exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, but many studies have shown proof that, just as with music, exercise also builds up the brain. Studies have suggested a positive effect of physical activity on brain function, especially in older adults. A recent finding using brain scans of men and women ages 66 to 89 found that those who were more physically active had better focusing abilities and were less easily distracted. Another study with 90 healthy, older women showed better memories and quicker reaction times resulting from a long-term exercise program. Adding music to a workout can produce a psycho-physiological effect whereby the participant is more highly motivated and able to exert his or her self more easily, with the end result being a higher performance level.
By using the power of music and fitness to heal, we can bridge from illness to health. We can thereby become more fit, strengthen our immune system and be led to better health and an overall well-being. Music has the power to not only enhance our workout, but also to give us the fitness connection between musical sound and sound health.