Music is just as effective at improving mental health as exercise

(ORDO NEWS) — The next time you can’t go to the gym, maybe play a few records instead: A new study shows that the mental health benefits of singing, playing or listening to music are about the same as exercise.

This is based on a meta-analysis of 26 previous studies involving 779 people. Previous research has looked at issues ranging from the use of gospel music as a preventive measure for heart disease to how being in a choir can help people recovering from cancer.

A growing body of research is finding links between music and well-being. However, the level of potential improvement in well-being and why this happens is still being studied by scientists – and this is where this study can be useful.

“A growing body of evidence supports the ability of music in general to improve well-being and health-related quality of life (HRQOL),” the researchers write in their published paper.

“However, the magnitude of the positive association of music with HRQOL is still unclear, especially when compared to established interventions, which limits the incorporation of music interventions into health policy and care.”

All 26 studies included in the new study used the widely used and well-known 36-item short form questionnaire (SF-36) for assessing physical and mental health, or a shorter 12-item alternative (SF-12), which facilitates collection and synthesis data.

The results of the studies were then compared with other studies examining the benefits of “non-pharmacological and medical interventions (eg, exercise, weight loss)” for well-being, as well as with studies in which medical treatments for health problems did not include a music therapy component.

According to the authors of the study, the mental health boost from music “is within the range, albeit at a low level,” of the same effects seen in people who engage in exercise or weight loss programs.

“This meta-analysis of 26 studies of music interventions provided clear and moderate-quality quantitative evidence that music interventions are associated with clinically meaningful changes in mental HRQOL,” the researchers wrote.

“In addition, a subgroup of 8 studies demonstrated that the addition of music interventions to conventional treatment is associated with clinically significant changes in mental HRQOL in various diseases.”

At the same time, the researchers note that studies have seen significant differences between people in terms of how effective different musical interventions are – even if the overall picture was positive. This is not necessarily something that will work for everyone.

The researchers hope that studies such as this will encourage healthcare professionals to prescribe more music therapy when it comes to helping patients recover from illness or maintain good mental health.

For many of us, listening to music or singing are enjoyable activities that may not be as challenging as exercising or dieting – another reason they can be useful as forms of therapy.

“Further research is needed to clarify optimal music interventions and doses for use in specific clinical and public health scenarios,” the researchers wrote.

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