Can Listening to Music Lower Your Blood Pressure?
Can music lower blood pressure?
Can listening to music lower your blood pressure? Quite a few studies have now looked at this question. And the answer so far is that, yes it can.
For example, a study at the University of Osaka in Japan invited middle-aged people to sessions of listening to music while singing or stretching. Their blood pressure was measured before and after the sessions. After a session, their blood pressure dropped by an average of 6 mmHg. And after three months of these weekly music sessions, their general blood pressure readings were lower too.
A similar effect of general blood pressure-lowering blood pressure was found by researchers at the University of Florence. In that study, people with mild hypertension listened to soothing classical, Celtic or Indian raga music for half an hour a day while breathing slowly.
After just one week of this, the average blood pressure of the participants dropped by 3.2 points (systolic, mmHg). And after a month, the average drop was 4.4 mmHg (systolic). In comparison, the blood pressure of the “control group” of participants who didn’t listen to music or do slow breathing during this time didn’t change really at all.
Listening to music and slow breathing to lower blood pressure
According to the lead researcher, Dr. Pietro A. Modesti, “Listening to music is soothing and has often been associated with controlling patient-reported pain or anxiety and acutely reducing blood pressure. But for the first time, today’s results clearly illustrate the impact daily music listening has on ambulatory blood pressure.”
It’s not clear which made the most difference – the music or the slow breathing. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that breathing slowly lowers blood pressure. However, as Dr Modesti notes, “The antihypertensive effects [have] to be considered as the result of the combination of music and breathing exercises.”
Overall, then, the evidence suggests that listening to music is beneficial for your blood pressure. But is this the case for all kinds of music? Or are some kinds of music more relaxing than others? How does music lower blood pressure? And how long does the blood pressure-lowering effect last for? Read on…
What kind of music lowers blood pressure the most?
The first question is, what kind of music should you listen to to lower your blood pressure. Well, there appear to be several factors involved.
Music tempo and blood pressure
Firstly, the speed, or tempo of music can make quite a difference as to how much or whether it can lower blood pressure. From the studies conducted so far, it generally looks like it’s slow music which has the strongest blood pressure-lowering effect.
In the Florence study which found music and slow breathing lowered blood pressure, all the music used was “rhythmically homogenous”. In other words, although the pieces of music were quite different – traditional Celtic, Indian raga and classical music – they all had similar slowish rhythms.
How music tempo affects blood pressure
To find out more about this, an Italian-UK study specifically looked at how the pace of music affects blood pressure. 24 people listened to music while their blood pressure and heart rate and various other things were being measured. Broadly speaking, listening to fast music increased blood pressure while listening to slow music decreased it. In fact, listening to music with a fast tempo and simple rhythms increased blood pressure the most, and also increased heart rate and breathing rate.
Fast music included rap, techno and fast classical music. (You can click on the link to this study at the bottom of this page to find out the exact pieces of music used). The slow music included Indian raga and slow classical music.
Now, this study was quite different to the Florence one. Rather than listening to one type of music for half an hour, participants listened to each different type of music for just two or four minutes, one after the other. So what was being assessed in this study was their immediate physical responses to the music, rather than the more general effect of the music.
Intriguingly, the researchers also had participants listen to music which had two minute-long pauses inserted into it. Whatever type of music was being listened to, during the pauses people’s blood pressure dropped significantly. So they argue that perhaps the pauses are responsible for the relaxing effects of some kinds of music on blood pressure, given that all music contains brief pauses between notes.
Emotional quality of music and blood pressure
The emotional tone of the music can also play a role in its effect on your blood pressure. A study from the University of Maryland in Baltimore, published in 2008, found that listening to joyful music can have a healthy effect on blood vessels.
The participants in the study themselves picked music that they found joyful and that made them feel good. They also chose music that made them feel anxious. After listening to the ‘joyful’ music, their blood vessels had expanded. After listening to the ‘anxious’ music, their blood vessels had narrowed.
This is discussed in more detail below. However, broadly speaking, when blood vessels expand blood pressure falls, while when blood vessels narrow, blood pressure rises.
All in all, it’s not surprising that how you feel about the music makes a difference. After all, how can listening to music lower your blood pressure if the music itself is stressing you out?!
Do I have to listen to relaxing music to lower blood pressure?
So what kind of ‘joyful’ music did the participants in the study choose? Well, apparently most of them chose country music songs. As for the music which made them feel ‘anxious’, most of them chose heavy metal songs!
Does this mean country music is better for your blood pressure than heavy metal? Not if you don’t like it! As the lead researcher of the Baltimore study, Dr Miller, points out,
“You can’t read into this too much, although you could argue that country music is light, spirited, a lot of love songs. […] The answer, in my opinion, is how an individual is ”wired.’ We’re all wired differently, we all react differently. I enjoy country music, so I could appreciate why country music could cause that joyful response.”
He notes that had he selected different participants, their chosen ‘joyful’ music could have been quite different. (The study was quite small with just ten participants.)
A review of studies of patients with coronary heart disease also found that listening to music may lower their anxiety levels and blood pressure. (The study also found it can help with pain relief and improve sleep quality). However, they noted that “Anxiety-reducing effects appear to be greatest when people are given a choice of which music to listen to.” (Cochrane review, link below).
So it’s important to listen to music that YOU find relaxing or uplifting. And definitely don’t listen to music that makes you feel anxious, irritated or stressful! Or if you do, don’t expect it to lower your blood pressure.
What if I don’t like slow “relaxing” music?
This means that if so-called “relaxing” music drives you up the wall, then ditch it and listen to something that makes you feel happy and chilled instead 🙂 It’s not about other people’s perceptions or designations about what’s “relaxing”. What matters is how the music specifically affects you.
(This is why, with our guided slow breathing tracks, we’ve included tracks that only have breathing prompts, as well as tracks with background music. So that you can play your own music along with the breathing prompts for maximum blood pressure-lowering benefits!)
How can listening to music lower your blood pressure?
Anxiety and stress relief
If you tend to be anxious or stressed, then listening to music you find relaxing may lower your blood pressure due to its anxiety or stress-relieving effects. Many studies which have found thatlistening to music relieves anxiety have also found that it lowers heart rate and blood pressure. And one study found that the blood pressure-lowering effect of music is less pronounced in people who’re already feel themselves to be happy and relaxed.
However, there is evidence that listening to music can lower blood pressure anyway, even if anxiety and stress aren’t a factor. An Indian research team did an overall analysis (meta-analysis) of various studies into music, anxiety and blood pressure. The aim was to ascertain whether listening to music does independently lower blood pressure and the researchers concluded that it does. Across the studies, those who had listened to music, compared to those who hadn’t, experienced significant reductions in their blood pressure (systolic and diastolic) and their heart rate.
Changes in the blood vessels
To get down to the nuts and bolts of how this works, we can look at the Maryland study mentioned above. The researchers found that when participants listened to their own choice of ‘feel-good’ music, their blood vessels basically expanded. Specifically, the tissue in the lining of their blood vessels (the endothelium) dilated. This allowed more blood to flow through while decreasing the pressure of the blood against the blood vessel walls.
However, when the participants listened to music that made them feel anxious, their blood vessels narrowed instead, reducing blood flow. The lead researcher, Professor of Cardiology, Dr. Michael Miller said he “was impressed with the highly significant differences both before and after listening to joyful music as well as between joyful and anxious music.”
Emotions and hormones
This University of Maryland study demonstrated that music can have definite physical effects on us. It also suggests that we can each respond differently to a particular kind of music. So how you personally respond to a particular piece of music seems to be quite crucial in how it will affect your blood pressure.
Indeed, Dr Miller believes that how we emotionally respond to the music may be the result of its physical effect on us. “We don’t understand why somebody may be drawn to certain classical music, for example. There are no words in that, and yet the rhythm, the melody and harmony, may all play a role in the emotional and cardiovascular response.” So you might like a piece of music precisely because it has a healthy physical effect on you.
Listening to music doesn’t just affect the blood vessels and circulatory system either. It can also affect our brains. Dr Miller suggests that the ‘joyful’ music can trigger the release of endorphins, brain chemicals which tend to make us feel good. (Exercising and eating high quality dark chocolate can also raise endorphin levels. And can lower blood pressure.)
Laughing and listening to music: the power of positive emotions
Interestingly, the blood vessel-dilation effect of happy music was exactly what the research team had found when they researched the effects of laughter on blood pressure a few years previously. Indeed, they included a laughter component in their music study too. As before, they found that after watching funny videos for half an hour, participants’ blood vessels were more dilated (though not quite as much as after listening to joyful music.)
The Osaka study also looked at the effect of laughter, with some participants taking part in weekly laughter sessions rather than music listening sessions. The laughter sessions involved taking part in ‘laughter yoga’ and watching Japanese comedy. Laughter yoga might sound weird but it’s just basically getting together in groups and doing activities which get you all laughing. A good belly laugh is what you need and there are specific techniques you can use in a group to trigger this. Read more about it here: Laughing and blood pressure
In short, the blood pressure-lowering effects of laughter were very similar to those of listening to music. Which suggests that the positive emotions of listening to music you enjoy and/or laughing can contribute to lowering blood pressure. And of course, laughing and enjoying music are generally releasing and relaxing experiences.
Long-term effects of listening to music on blood pressure?
The Osaka study found that the blood pressure-lowering effects of listening to music (or laughing) were found not only immediately after the sessions. They were also present after three months of having regular weekly music or laughing sessions. This suggests that the effects of listening to music (or having laughter sessions) can persist to some extent, if you do it regularly.
The Florence study of listening to music while breathing slowly found something similar. The participants had their blood pressure measured several times throughout the day (“ambulatory blood pressure”). So their “average” blood pressure readings were a measure of their blood pressure in general at that time. In other words, the music and slow breathing caused a general decrease in blood pressure, not just a decrease at the time of listening to the music and breathing slowly.
In studies looking at the effects of slow breathing alone, the early evidence also suggests the effects of doing it daily may persist. However, there is not yet enough research to determine this conclusively.
Listen to music regularly to lower your blood pressure
It won’t do you any harm to listen to music you enjoy and find relaxing on a regular basis! It is certainly likely to keep you feeling good. And that’s always helpful for your health and blood pressure. Stress and unhappiness does no one any favours.
And there’s definitely a big advantage in getting into a regular practice of doing slow breathing with music. This is because slow breathing is a highly effective way of lowering your blood pressure quickly. In fact, it’s the quickest way to lower your blood pressure without medication. This is especially helpful in stressful situations, since stress will bump up your blood pressure even more. It can be hard to remember to breathe slowly when we’re stressed though. So if you practice slow breathing, then you’ll be able to do it more readily when you need to. Which is definitely good for your blood pressure. (Just click on the pic for details of our slow breathing audio tracks.)
Other ways to use music to lower your blood pressure
There is another way you can use music to lower your blood pressure. And that’s to forget the relaxing soothing music and go for the opposite extreme. Put on the most energizing music you can find, turn it up, and dance around the house (or wherever) as energetically as you can! Dancing is excellent exercise. And while exercise will initially raise your blood pressure, if you exercise regularly it can seriously lower your blood pressure.
This is because exercise which is strenuous enough to get your heart and lungs pumping harder than usual, makes your heart and lungs fitter and stronger. The stronger your heart is, the more efficiently it can use oxygen, and the more effectively it can pump blood around your body. In short, the fitter your heart is, the less hard it has to pump, which means lower blood pressure.
Energetic exercise has many other health benefits too. It also boosts your mood through the release of “happy hormones” and is a good stress-reducer. You can read more here (on our other website): Exercise to lower blood pressure naturally
So actually, doing energetic dancing to faster music can lower your blood pressure too! Though in quite a different way to the way slow breathing to relaxing music does. They’re complementary though. So, if you can, find time to do both!
Can listening to music lower your blood pressure? References and more information
Music and slow breathing study – University of Florence
Music tempo and blood pressure study
Meta-analysis of effect of music on blood pressure
Music and laughter and blood pressure – University of Maryland study
Music and laughter and blood pressure – University of Osaka study
Effects of music on blood pressure – overview
Cochrane review of effect of music on blood pressure and coronary heart disease