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Slow Music May Calm the Heart

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Tempo may be key to how well music soothes the savage breast -- meaning that an Irish jig and a Debussy nocturne may not be created equal when it comes to improving well-being.

New research, reported in Heart, a British Medical Journal publication, shows that slow music produces a relaxing effect, while musical pauses further modulate heart rhythms and circulation patterns in a beneficial way. The effects were most striking for those people who have musical training.

"Calm music with a slow tempo can entrain respiration to produce slower breathing," says study senior author Dr. Peter Sleight of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Oxford in England. "This is the first study to show that breathing can be easily entrained (and subconsciously) using music."

Slower breathing has been linked to lower blood pressure and may help the lungs work more efficiently.

Sleight and his colleagues investigated physiologic responses to six different types of music in 12 musicians and 12 nonmusicians.

The music selections consisted of Indian raga, a slow portion of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, rap by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, fast classical music by Vivaldi, techno and slow, dodecaphonic music by Anton Webern.

Each participant listened to different sequences of music for two minutes at a stretch, followed by the same selection for four minutes. The sequences included a two-minute pause.

Music with faster tempos and simpler rhythmic structures resulted in increased ventilation, blood pressure and heart rate, the researchers found. When the music was paused, heart rate, blood pressure and ventilation decreased, sometimes even below the starting rate.

Slower music caused declines in heart rate, with the largest decline seen with raga music.

The pause effect occurred regardless of the type of music, but was stronger among musicians, who are already trained to measure their breathing with the music.

Overall, a person's musical preference was less important than the music's pace, the researchers say.

The findings do not surprise experts in the field.

"Stress has its impact on cardiovascular disease," says Dr.

Vincent Marchello, vice president of medical affairs for Metropolitan Jewish Health System and an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, both in New York. "Music can not only reduce stress, but also it can enhance the therapy that one gets."

Earlier research has shown that reading aloud rhythmic poetry such as Homer's "The Odyssey" can synchronize the body's heart and respiration rates. Similar positive effects have been linked to the Catholic rosary prayer and the yoga mantra. Indeed, Sleight's team has published studies showing similar effects from yoga and repetitive prayer.

Music also has been shown to have beneficial properties, including reducing stress, improving athletic performance and enhancing motor function in people with neurological impairments.

Until now, however, there had been no comprehensive comparisons of how different types of music and the way in which they are presented might affect autonomic, cardiovascular and respiratory functioning.

The authors also speculate that different types of music may play a role in modulating breathing in a medical setting.

In some settings, music already plays such a role: Marchello's staff uses music to calm the behavior of agitated Alzheimer's patients.

In the post-surgery cardiac-rehab ward, Marchello says, "music can improve rehab therapy sessions, and can make the therapy sessions more efficient and shorten the time needed to get better."

In such cases, however, age and preference may make a difference, Marchello adds. Elderly cardiac patients typically respond to light "Muzak" and classical music, while those 55 to 60 years old seem to benefit from slightly faster music.

"What you're trying to do is make therapy time more efficient and maybe have longer sessions," Marchello says. "Music is one thing we do to motivate patients. It has to be what they prefer."

c.2005 HealthDay News

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