Playing the Stereo Plays with Your Blood Pressure

If you’re worried about your heart health, make it a habit to listen to slow music that is filled with silent pauses. Loud, fast music raises your heart rate and blood pressure and may even make you hyperventilate, according to research in Italy (Heart 2006;92:445-452).

“Music induces a continuous, dynamic — and to some extent predictable — change in the cardiovascular system,” says Luciano Bernardi, M.D., lead researcher of the study and professor of Internal Medicine at Pavia University in Pavia, Italy.

When the researchers subjected people to various pieces of music they found that:

  • When the music grew louder, it led to increased narrowing of blood vessels under the skin, increased blood pressure and heart rate and increased respiration amplitude. In each music track the extent of the effect was proportional to the change in music profile.
  • During silent pauses, changes decreased, with blood vessels under the skin dilating and marked reductions in heart rate and blood pressure. Unlike with music, silence reduced heart rate and other variables, indicating relaxation.

More dramatic music, like opera, seems to have the strongest effect on the heart and cardiovascular system.

“The profile of music (crescendo or decrescendo) is continuously tracked by the cardiovascular and respiratory systems,” Bernardi says. “This is particularly evident when music is rich in emphasis, like in operatic music. These findings increase our understanding of how music could be used in rehabilitative medicine.”

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