NEW YORK, May 5 (Reuters) Heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate fluctuate in respond to music, with an arousal effect seen with increasing tempo, while slow, meditative music induces a relaxing effect, especially during the pauses, Italian researchers report.
Therefore, ''music may give pleasure (and perhaps a health benefit) as a result of this controlled alternation between arousal and relaxation,'' Dr. Luciano Bernardi of the Universita di Pavia and his colleagues speculate.
To investigate the potential effects of music on health, particularly stress, Bernardi and his team had 24 men listen to a random series of six two-minute musical tracks while the researchers measured their heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and other indicators of arousal or relaxation.
Before the music started, study participants, half of whom had advanced musical training, relaxed for five minutes. The tracks were then repeated in a different order, each lasting four minutes. A two-minute period of silence was randomly inserted into one of the sequences.
The tracks included raga, a type of Indian music; slow and fast classical music; techno; rap; and dodecaphonic, or twelve-tone, music, which lacks a traditional rhythmic, harmonic and melodic structure.
The researchers found that most of the music increased blood pressure and heart rate, with a stronger effect seen with faster music. This effect appeared to depend on tempo, not style; fast classical and techno had the same effect.
Shifts in heart rate and breathing were more pronounced in the trained musicians, who also had a slower average breathing rate than the non-musicians. The enhanced response in the musicians is probably associated with their ability to synchronize their breathing with the music phrase, the researchers suggest.
During the silent interval, study participants' heart and breathing rates and blood pressures fell. In musicians, the silent interval also reduced activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the ''fight or flight'' response.
Listening to music may have effects similar to that of relaxation techniques, Bernardi and his colleagues note, which generally require that a person focus his or her attention on something and then release it. ''Appropriate selection of music, by alternating fast and slower rhythms and pauses, can be used to induce relaxation and reduce sympathetic activity and thus may be potentially useful in the management of cardiovascular disease,'' they conclude.
REUTERS CH ND0952