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Music to Your Heart? Study Shows Certain Types of Music Improve Blood Vessel Health

A recent study presented on November 12, 2008 at the American Heart Associations (AHA) annual meeting in New Orleans found that listening to enjoyable music may be good for your heart.

The study was lead by Michael Miller, MD, director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland. It was designed to build on a 2005 study (from the same researchers) which found that laughter had a positive effect on blood vessel health.

The recent study included ten volunteers, seven men and three women. The median age of the volunteers was 36. There were four phases to the study, each lasting 30 minutes. Each volunteer participated in all four phases.

In the first phase, participant’s selected, and listened to, music that evoked a sense of joy. In the second phase, participants listened to music that they indicated made them feel anxious. For the third phase they listened to relaxation tapes, and in the final stage they watched comedy videos meant to provoke laughter.

To minimize emotional desensitization, the participants were asked not to listen to their favorite music for at least two weeks before the study. Prior to each phase, volunteers fasted overnight so that researchers could get an accurate baseline reading of flow-mediated dilation (FMD).

FMD is used to figure out how blood vessel lining react to certain stimuli. It measures the blood vessel's ability to relax and expand to allow blood to flow freely. The better the FMD, the easier it is for blood to flow.

Using an ultrasound to measure FMD, researchers found a 26% increase in blood vessel dilation after listening to joyful music. During the laughter phase of the study, participants experienced a 19% increase in FMD. While listening to relaxation tapes an 11% increase was observed.

On the other hand, when participants listened to music that made them feel anxious their blood vessels actually narrowed by 6 percent.

According to Dr. Miller, these results are very promising because they signal another preventative strategy that can be easily incorporated into our daily routines.

So next time you're in the car and there's a difference of opinion on what music to listen to, just tune the dial to your favorite station and tell the other passengers that its doctor recommended.
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