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Release the endorphins

Musicians and runners may have more in common than you think…

Statistics and experience show that playing music of any kind is good for the mind, but in a recent study in the Netherlands Heart Journal, it seems that it is also good for the body. Researchers took two groups of young people of the same age, gender, size and exercise level. There was, however, one difference: one group practiced music for at least two hours a day. In the article, “Making Music May Impart Some Health Benefits of Exercise,” Scott Douglas of Runners World writes, “Compared to their potential audience members, the musicians had lower resting heart rates and blood pressure (systolic, diastolic, and mean).” Not all musicians are self-destructive.

Researchers expected such results. You see, making music and exercising stimulate brain activity involving communication between the brainstem and muscles, the cardiovascular system and other parts of the body. This communication is essential in the health benefits of exercising. Why should making music be any different?

Douglas comments that the study nicely compliments a study published in Evolutionary Psychology by a team of researchers led by Oxford psychology professor Robin Dunbar. In another article by Douglas, he writes, “But if you’re familiar with the concept of flow, you’ll notice that Gibbard’s [of Death Cab for Cutie] description of a great show sounds like athletes’ descriptions of a great training session or competition—total immersion in the task such that the barrier between actor and act disappears.” This, according to Dunbar, is because performing music releases endorphins.

Dunbar and his team tried many experiments, including testing the differences between people who went to a charismatic church service opposed to those who went to a quiet Anglican service; the differences between players in a drum circle and passive listeners; and the differences between people who had been dancing and those who were rehearsing music. During the three experiments, the researchers continually gauged pain tolerance, a common effect of released endorphins.  The charismatic church singers, drummers and dancers all had a greater pain tolerance. Dunbar says, “Psychologically, endorphin release is experienced as a mild opiate ‘high,’ a corresponding feeling of well-being, and light analgesia.” That is a positive high. Can you really go wrong with endorphins, lowered blood pressure and a greater pain tolerance?

The two studies prove what many of us already know: playing music is a transcendent experience. The health benefits are numerous – physically, mentally and emotionally. Why aren’t you playing an instrument? Why aren’t you playing music? Pick up a guitar and release those endorphins!

You can find the first article here Making Music May Impart Some Health Benefits of Exercise and the second one here Study: Performing Music Gets Us High.

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