Music May Improve Mental Well-Being Just As Well As Exercise, Suggests New Research

A recent review shed light on music's positive effects on your mental state — and shows singing in the car might just give you the pick-me-up you need.

Woman with headphones and smart phone dancing
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If you've ever jammed out to a high-energy playlist while on a run or belted out Lizzo's top hits while driving to the supermarket, you may have noticed that the tunes improved your mood. And you're not just imagining it: New research suggests music can play a major role in improving mental well-being.

A systematic review published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open analyzed 26 studies investigating the effects of music interventions (think: making music and/or listening to it) on nearly 800 participants. These studies explored topics such as music's effect on stress and anxiety in patients with coronary heart disease, group singing's impact on well-being in folks with and without chronic health conditions, and music therapy's effects on symptoms of depression.

The review found these music interventions were linked with "clinically meaningful improvements" in both physical and mental health-related quality of life (read: a person's perceived physical and mental health over time, a concept closely related to well-being). What's more, these gains in mental health were on par with the average effects of other non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as exercise and weight loss, according to the review. (Related: Here's How Working Out Can Make You More Resilient to Stress)

To draw these conclusions, the researchers looked at "mental component summary" scores on questionnaires used in analyzed studies to assess quality of life. The mental component summary measures aspects of health such as vitality (aka energy), social functioning, limitations in usual activities due to emotional issues, and general mental health, according to the JAMA Network Open review. The researchers found that music interventions were associated with "significant increases" in mental component summary scores. The higher someone's mental component summary score, the better their mental health-related quality of life, according to the review.

Plus, combining music interventions with traditional therapeutic methods could have a significant pay-off in folks dealing with other health concerns. The researchers discovered a link between adding music interventions to usual treatments and significant increases in mental component summary scores when compared with the usual treatment alone. And these improvements in mental health were seen across a range of health conditions, the authors stated.

Despite the encouraging results, the study authors noted that more research is needed to determine the best music interventions to improve well-being, as well as how many tunes you'd need to listen to or create to experience those mood-boosting effects. That said, there aren't any serious risks to singing ABBA songs or blasting Taylor Swift in your bedroom, besides annoying your roommate or live-in S.O. Considering the potential mental health benefits, it's a risk worth taking.

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