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Significant New Definitions, Publications, Risks, Benefits -- and Gene Therapy?: Music Can Reduce Blood Pressure, Depending on the Tempo


Music Can Reduce Blood Pressure, Depending on the Tempo

A new study reported in Heart, a British Medical Journal publication, has shown that listening to fast music increases blood pressure, whereas listening to slower music has the opposite effect.[22] Randomly introducing a pause into the music lowers blood pressure even further. These effects are particularly marked in people who have had musical training.

Researchers from Italy and the United Kingdom studied cardiovascular and respiratory responses in 12 classically trained musicians and 12 people with no musical training (medical students or colleagues) while they were listening to music in a university research laboratory. Study participants listened to recordings of 6 different types of music:

  • Indian raga (Introduction from Debabrata Chaudhuri's "Raga Maru Behag")

  • Slow classical (Adagio from Beethoven's "9th Symphony")

  • Fast classical (Presto from Vivaldi's "L'estate")

  • Dodecaphonic ("Zart bewegt" from Webern's "6 Pieces for Orchestra")]

  • Rap (Red Hot Chili Peppers: "The Power of Equality")

  • Techno (Gigi D'Agostino: "You Spin Me Round")

The 6 recordings were played, in random order, for 2 min each, with no intervening pauses, followed by a second playing of the 6 pieces, in different random order, for 4 min each with 2-min periods of silence randomly inserted into the sequences.

Music with faster tempi and simpler rhythmic structures significantly increased ventilation, breathing rate, SBP and DBP, mid-cerebral artery blood flow velocity (measured by trans-cranial Doppler), and heart rate. Slower music had less effect and raga induced a significantly large drop in heart rate. When the music was paused, heart rate, blood pressure, and ventilation decreased, sometimes even below the starting rate. The effects appeared to be dependent on the tempo of the music rather than on the style. The 2-min pauses were associated with the lowest SBP and DBP, heart rate, and minute ventilation. None of the effects differed between the musician and nonmusician groups, except the respiratory rate, which was significantly lower at baseline and increased more in response to faster music in the musicians.

Lead researchers Luciano Bernardi, MD (University of Pavia, Italy) and Peter Sleight, MD (John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK), noted that their findings appear to contradict those of previous studies, which reported that "meditative" music can decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and plasma catecholamines. They hypothesized that all music, even fast music, includes pauses, and it is the pauses that releasethe subject from the arousal, and possibly from the attention created by concentrating on the music. This mimics a typical relaxation technique in which a person focuses on a physical or mental object (ie, music) and then releases the attention, achieving a relaxed state. This is the first study to show this relaxing effect with music, the researchers believe.

Profs. Bernardi and Sleight suggested that appropriate modulation of breathing can improve or restore autonomic control of cardiovascular and respiratory systems in relevant diseases such as hypertension and heart failure, and might therefore help to improve exercise tolerance, quality of life, and, ultimately, survival. They had previously studied the effects of rosary prayers and yoga mantras, which, when recited at 6 times per minute, caused an increase in existing cardiovascular rhythms and baroreflex sensitivity.[23]