Can Your iPod Help You Lose Weight, Reduce Your Blood Pressure, and Alleviate Pain? / by Anne Kreamer

The last thing Steve Jobs needs is more hype, but there still may be a market that he hasn't fully tapped. All of us are intuitively aware that music can alter behavioral patterns -- who hasn't experienced that wonderful moment when a soothing lullaby stops a baby's cries or the rousing feeling we get when listening to John Williams' Star Wars score?

I recently discovered that there was an organized field of health care called music therapy. According to the American Music Therapy Association, programs designed by trained professionals and specifically tailored to medical issues (pain or stress management, for instance) can improve the quality of a person's physical, emotional, or cognitive health. And since 1994 Medicare has covered many of these treatments.

But what I find really exciting is that a slew of new studies are providing hard scientific validation of our anecdotal insights.

1.    Music and Weight Loss

Christopher Capuano, the director of the school of psychology at Farleigh Dickinson University, reported that "exercising can be difficult for someone who is obese. Walking to music seemed to really motivate women in our study to get out there and stick with the commitment they made." As part of an overall weight reduction program for women who were overweight to moderately obese (BMIs ranged from 26.1 to 41.7) that included dieting, aerobic exercise, and participation in group meetings, his team also gave a portable CD player to half the women to use when they walked. The other half did not walk to music. The women who played music lost significantly more weight and fewer of them dropped out of the program.

2.    Music and Pain

Dr. Mark Liponis, the medical director of the Canyon Ranch spa, reports in his upcoming book, Ultra-Longevity, on a Korean study that found that music therapy actually reduced the pain of fractures in people with broken legs. He also cites a study in the journal Clinical Research in Cardiology of heart patients who listened to music while undergoing uncomfortable catheterization -- their anxiety levels were significantly reduced if music was played during the procedure.

3.    Music and Blood Pressure

Mark Jude Tramo, a musician and neuroscientist at the Harvard Medical School, is exploring how the biology of music has benefits far beyond entertainment. According to Tramo, "one study showed that the heart muscle of people exercising on treadmills didn't work as hard when people listened to music as it did when they exercised in silence." Other studies have shown that patients in intensive cardiac care units where music is played need lower doses of blood pressure-lowering drugs than patients in units where no music is played.

I personally use a device called Resperate that coordinates my breathing with musical sequences as an aide in controlling my blood pressure.

4.    Music and Alzheimer's

One of the most active areas of research is in using music as a tool to help soothe Alzheimer's patients. A month-long music therapy study at the University of Miami School of Medicine discovered that blood levels of melatonin, epinephrine, and norepinephrine -- all natural mood-enhancing substances -- rose significantly in all patients during the study. The participants in the study slept better and became more cooperative and active.

5.  Music and Cancer

According to the Ayurvedic practitioner Pratima Raichur, "preliminary studies at Ohio State University have found evidence that the primordial sounds of the Veda [spoken Hindu scriptures] decreased growth of cancer cells in rats."

A study of adults -- humans, that is! -- undergoing highly toxic high-dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplantation, conducted at Memorial Sloan-Kettering's Integrative Medicine Service demonstrated that trained musical therapists could significantly reduce patient anxiety.

When my father was dying of multiple myeloma, a form of bone-marrow cancer, I made sure to supply him with recordings of his favorite music. Had I known then about the benefits of professionally administered music therapy, I surely would have made use of their skills as well. I can tell you one thing -- I'm going to start listening to my iPod in the gym with a new set of ears.