As Bob Marley once said, the good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain — and there may be more truth to that than you’d think. A systematic review and meta-analysis of 26 studies recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) found that music has the power to keep your mind healthy. Moreover, music can deliver mental health benefits similar to what an individual experiences due to exercise, meditation, or weight loss.
According to J. Matt McCrary, one of the researchers who worked on the meta-analysis, when it comes to mental health psychologists primarily use music to treat their patients using two key methods:
- Music therapy, in which music is used in the context of a broader therapeutic experience that is guided by a qualified music therapist;
- Music medicine, in which patients are ‘prescribed’ to listen to or make music (e.g. play an instrument, sing).
The meta-analysis included 779 subjects and is based on multiple studies focused on music therapy, the use of music in the treatment of cancer and heart-related diseases, music listening, gospel music, and singing breathing education. The authors of the systematic review claim that music plays an important role in promoting wellbeing and health-related quality of life (HRQOL – the overall physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being of a person).
Although the researchers are still not sure just how much music can improve an individual’s physical and mental health, their analysis suggests that “music interventions are linked to meaningful improvements in well-being.” The combined study empirically confirms that music-related actions such as singing, playing instruments, or listening to your favorite songs have the same positive impact on your mind. After comparing the 26 studies to one another, the researchers concluded that music is as beneficial to a person’s mental health as meditation or physical exercise.
“The best evidence we have at the moment is that the music that you enjoy the most is most likely associated with the greatest health benefits – for some this could be classical music and for others heavy metal,” said McCrary.
The researchers also admit that there are limitations to their meta-analysis.
“The review was limited by its broad inclusion criteria that limited conclusions regarding the associations of specific music interventions in particular scenarios with specific HRQOL changes, especially given the diversity of included interventions. Despite this limitation, which would preclude the conduct of many meta-analyses, we contend that our meta-analysis was justified by the demonstrated need for even general quantitative syntheses, which allow music effects to be clearly contextualized,” the study reads.
The authors also admit that “the SF-36 and SF-12 instruments do not completely capture the impact of music on HRQOL,” they give estimated results. However, while the details are not entirely clear, the big picture results seem to suggest that the music you like is legitimately good for you. So keep on rocking.