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“Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation,” wrote scientist Oliver Sacks. Medical research lends credibility to his observation, as classical music is known to lower heart rate and blood pressure. However, a new study shows that a little “mediation” from antihypertensive drugs goes a long way in helping the heart to find its natural, healthy rhythm.
Combining the soothing power of music with the beneficial effects of antihypertensive drugs seems to create a beautiful synergy that lowers the heart rate and blood pressure of people with hypertension.
This is the main result of a new study carried out by an international team of researchers. Their results are now published in the journal Scientific Reports.
“The inexpressible depth of music,” as Sacks called it in his book Musicophilia, has been shown before to have healing effects on the heart. Studies have suggested that music can lower the blood pressure, reduce the heart rate, and ease the distress of people living with heart conditions.
The comforting effects of music do not stop here. Music therapy was shown to help the heart to contract and push blood throughout the body, classical and rock music makes your arteries more supple, and listening to music during surgery helps to lower the heart rate to a more calming pace.
Given all of these intriguingly positive effects of music on the heart, could it be that music can also boost the positive effects of blood pressure medication?
This question puzzled the researchers — who were led by Vitor Engrácia Valenti, a professor in the Speech Language Pathology Department at the São Paulo State University in Brazil. So, they set out to investigate.
Prof. Valenti and his colleagues investigated the effects of instrumental music on the heart rate and blood pressure of people with “well-controlled hypertension.” These were 37 participants who had been taking antihypertensive medication for a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 1 year.
After taking their usual blood pressure medication, the participants listened to music for 60 minutes using earphones. The next day, they took their medication as usual, but they sat in silence with the earphones turned off for the same amount of time.
The songs that they listened to included instrumental piano versions of Adele’s “Someone Like You” and “Hello,” as well as an instrumental version of “Amazing Grace” by Chris Tomlin and “Watermark” by Enya.
The team took heart rate variability measurements at 20, 40, and 60 minutes after the participants took the blood pressure medication.
The heart rates of the music-listening participants dropped significantly 60 minutes after taking blood pressure medication, whereas when they did not listen to music, the heart rates did not slow down at all.
The effects of medication on blood pressure were also “more intense” when the participants were subjected to instrumental music.
“We found that the effect of antihypertension medication on heart rate was enhanced by listening to music.”
Vitor Engrácia Valenti
The scientists speculate on the potential mechanisms that might explain the results. Referring to some of their previous research, they say, “We’ve observed classical music activating the parasympathetic nervous system and reducing sympathetic activity.”
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for speeding up the heart rate and increasing the blood pressure, whereas the parasympathetic one does the opposite.
So, in addition to triggering the parasympathetic nervous system, the researchers hypothesize that music also stimulates gastrointestinal activity, which, in turn, might facilitate and speed up the absorption of blood pressure drugs.