Dr's Casebook: Studies show music could be used as therapy for the heart

We all have different tastes in music.

Saturday, 18th September 2021, 4:45 pm
Music as therapy for the heart. Photo: Getty Images
Music as therapy for the heart. Photo: Getty Images

We all have different tastes in music. Some interesting research by cardiologists in France has demonstrated that people’s hearts actually respond differently. The researchers suggest that personalised music ‘prescriptions’ could in the future be developed for common ailments or to help people either stay alert or relaxed. It may even be possible to develop this as a way to help blood pressure and lower the risk of developing abnormal heart rhythms.

Previous studies of the effect of music on the heart has measured changes in heart rate after listening to different recordings. These studies used recordings that were labelled as either sad, happy, calm or violent. This study was more precise and they found that what calmed one person’s heart could arouse that of another.

This was a small study on patients with heart failure, all of whom had pacemakers. They were invited to a live classical piano concert. The pacemakers meant that their heart rates could be kept constant throughout the concert. The pacemakers also permitted measurements of the electrical activity of their hearts directly from the pacemaker leads. This was done before and after 24 points in the performance, coinciding with marked changes in tempo, volume, or rhythm.

This allowed them to measure the time it takes the heart to recover after a heartbeat. Since their actual heart rates were kept constant they could focus on the electrical changes based on the emotional response to the music.

This is a subtle, but very important thing that they were measuring, because the recovery time in the heart cycle is linked to the electrical stability of the heart. This in turn is linked to the susceptibility to develop heart rhythm disorders. Effectively, this shows how mild stress induced by music affects the electrical recovery time.

They found that recovery time changes varied from person to person. When recovery time was reduced by five milliseconds it indicated increased stress or arousal response. Conversely, a five millisecond lengthening of recovery time indicated relaxation.

The researchers concluded that if one can understand how an individual’s heart reacts to musical changes, then tailored music could be used in clinical situations to reduce the risk of dangerous heart rhythms without the side effects of medication.