Researchers at the University of Arizona recently set out to prove or disprove the old adage, “Music can soothe the savage heart.” They measured blood pressure and pain levels in 100 intensive care patients and found that certain types of music were effective at lowering both. Half of the patients were “treated with” 10-minute segments of music, while the control group patients were prescribed 10-minute periods of quiet relaxation.
In this study, harp music was found to have the most profound effect, significantly lowering blood pressure and pain levels in most of the music group, compared to the control group. Interestingly enough, for some patients the harp music raised their low blood pressure to more normal levels, helping it to become more stable, a reaction that was also seen as beneficial.
Laughter might lower blood pressure even more than music
A study performed in Osaka, Japan set out to measure whether music and laughter could lower blood pressure. 79 subjects were divided into three groups: 32 listened to music, 30 were entertained by “laughter yogis” who made them laugh, and 17 had no changes to their normal routine. Because measurements were taken both immediately after the music or laughter sessions and cumulatively, at the end of three months, the music group was encouraged to listen to and perform music at home, and the laughter group was encouraged to watch comedy shows and perform “laughter yoga” at home.
After three months, as expected subjects in the control group showed no change in blood pressure. Blood pressure in the music group, however, had decreased by 6mmHg, and in the laughter group by 5mmHg. Measurements taken immediately after the group music or laughter sessions showed a decrease of 6mmHg in the music group and 7mmHg in the laughter group.
Music can lower or raise blood pressure, depending on its tempo
In one noted study published in Heart, a British medical journal, researchers from the UK and Italy studied the cardiovascular and respiratory responses of 24 people as they listened to six types of music: Indian raga, slow classical music, fast classical music, dodecaphonic (twelve-tone) music, rap, and techno. 12 of the subjects were classically trained musicians, and the other 12 were people with no musical training whatsoever. Two-minute segments of each type of music were played in random order with no pauses between them, followed by a repetition of the same six segments, but in a different order and with two-minute periods of silence inserted between the musical segments.
The musical segments with slower tempos and the Indian raga produced a significant drop in heart rate. Music with faster tempos and more simple rhythmic structures were found to actually increase heart rate, breathing rate, ventilation, systolic and diastolic blood pressure and arterial blood flow velocity. The effects noted seemed to be more dependent on the tempo or “beat” of the music than on its style. There was almost no difference between the effects noted in musicians vs. non-musicians.
Most interesting in a way, during the second play-through of the musical segments with periods of silence separating them, the lowest systolic and diastolic blood pressure, heart rates, and ventilation measured in the entire experiment occurred during the two-minute periods of silence.
So in the long run, maybe if what you’re trying to do is lower your blood pressure, enjoying the silence might be more productive than enjoying music. Laughing while enjoying the silence might be the most productive of all.