If you’ve ever experienced the effects of a heart attack or have known someone who has, you know how much life can change afterwards. A strict regimen of diet and prescription medications, frequent blood draws and labwork all become the norm after a cardiac event. The medical community is starting to realize the importance of adding in stress management techniques, and one particular type of stress relief has been shown to reduce cardiac conditions after a heart attack: music.
Heart attacks are often followed by severe anxiety and continued chest pains after the event. Chest pains can be brought on by anxiety, so it can be hard to differentiate between the two, which leads to more anxiety. New research conducted out of the University of Belgrade School of Medicine in Serbia shows promising techniques involving music to reduce anxiety scores by one-third and reduce subsequent chest pain symptoms by one-quarter.
The music therapy was administered in conjunction with standard treatment, and the participants were divided into two groups (one group received standard treatments alone, and the other received standard treatments with the addition of music therapy). Since not everyone responds the same way to the same types of music, the participants were first screened to see what type of music relaxed their body the most. For this analysis, they listened to nine samples of soothing music while the researchers made assessments of physiological responses to see which samples caused the most involuntary reactions, such as pupil dilation or constriction.
After the piece of music was selected, the participants listened with eyes closed for 30 minutes daily. They continued this for an astounding seven-year period and returned for medical follow-ups four times in the first year thereafter and then annually afterwards.
The participants who engaged in 30 minutes of music therapy in conjunction with their standard treatments fared much better than those who did not listen to the music samples. The music group had an 18% decrease in heart failure, 16% decrease in cardiac death, 23% decrease in having another heart attack, and were 20% less likely to need a coronary artery bypass surgery.
The researchers believe that controlling the anxiety reduced the stress on the sympathetic nervous system, which is activated during periods of anxiety and stress. The sympathetic nervous system causes increases in blood pressure and heart rate in order to help propel the body in fight-or-flight situations, but anxiety can also cause the sympathetic nervous system to activate. By reducing the amount of work that stress brings on the cardiovascular system, the participants were able to control and lessen the wear-and-tear on their own hearts.