CHICAGO — “Music is good for the soul” is an old saying, but recent research suggests it might be time for a new saying: “music is good for the heart.” A new study shows that listening to music for 30 minutes a day causes people who have suffered from a heart attack to experience significantly less chest pain and anxiety.
Approximately 1.5 million heart attacks occur every year in the U.S., and a little less than half of these people survive the heart attack. Of the survivors, roughly 1 in 9 experience chest pain and anxiety within 48 hours of their heart attack. Patients who experience this chest pain, known as post-infarction angina, are at a high risk for experiencing another heart-related illness. Most therapies for post-infarction angina only include medications.
“There have been very few studies analyzing the effects of music on heart conditions,” says lead author Predrag Mitrovic, MD/PhD, a professor of cardiology at the University of Belgrade School of Medicine, in a release. “Based on our findings, we believe music therapy can help all patients after a heart attack, not only patients with early post-infarction angina. It’s also very easy and inexpensive to implement.”
To conduct their study, researchers recruited 350 patients who had been diagnosed with a heart attack and early post-infarction angina in a Serbian hospital. Researchers divided subjects into two groups: a standard therapy group and a music therapy group.
The standard therapy group continued to take their medications as usual. The music therapy group took their medicine as usual, but they also took an extra dosage of music.
Researchers paired the patients in the music therapy group with a specific genre of music. They played 30-second samples of music for the patients while measuring their pupil diameters. The pupils of the patients indicated if they were aroused or relaxed. Researchers selected the musical genre that the patients responded to most positively and instructed them to listen to that type of music for 30 minutes a day, ideally while resting with their eyes closed.
Researchers followed the patients for seven years. The patients on music therapy, on average, had an anxiety score that was one-third lower than the score of patients on standard treatment. Music therapy patients also reported less chest-pain than their standard therapy counterparts by about one-quarter.
Music therapy patients also had significantly lower rates of other heart-related illnesses. This includes an 18% reduction in heart failure, a 23% lower chance of experiencing another heart attack, and a 16% lower rate of cardiac death.
Mitrovic hypothesizes that music helps lower the “fight-or-flight” response of the body to stressful situations. When someone faces a stressful event, the sympathetic nervous system is called into action. This causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and this can put unwanted strain on the heart.
“Unrelieved anxiety can produce an increase in sympathetic nervous system activity, leading to an increase in cardiac workload,” says Mitrovic. Listening to music can help relieve some of the anxiety from post-infarction angina and counteract these effects.
The study was originally set to be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session.