The groove affects your heart

9 June 2015        

A girl browsing records in a  BHF shop Repeated musical phrases can affect the heart rate, which may mean music could be used as a treatment for heart conditions, according to research presented at the British Cardiovascular Society (BCS) Conference in Manchester.

The findings of over 20 years of research, presented by the renowned cardiologist and researcher Professor Peter Sleight from the University of Oxford, show that hearing a repeated 10 second rhythm found in various music compositions, particularly by Verdi, coincides exactly with changes in blood pressure that reduce the heart rate.

The researchers played different music styles to people and analysed each person’s cardiovascular response – including blood pressure and pulse measurements. The responses to calming (Indian rajas), or exciting music (jazz or fast classical), were similar between individuals. These findings suggest that a music therapy to calm individuals could be relatively simple – music would not need to be tailored to the individual.

Professor Peter Sleight of the University of Oxford said: “Music is already being used commercially as a calming therapy but this has happened independent of controlled studies into its effectiveness. Our research has provided improved understanding as to how music, particularly certain rhythms, can affect your heart and blood vessels. But further robust studies are needed, which could reduce scepticism of the real therapeutic role of music.”

Professor Sleight's talk was followed by a live performance by the Welsh Cardiovascular Society Choir.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the BHF, said: “We know that stress can play a role in cardiovascular disease so the calming effect of music may have some potential as a therapy. However, as Professor Sleight points out more robust evidence is needed before we see cardiologists prescribing a dose of Taylor Swift or 30 minutes of Vivaldi a day.”

At the Annual BCS conference, we are calling on the UK Government to maintain the current ringfenced science budget and commit to future increases. Without this commitment, our ability to support world class research will be significantly reduced as funds will have to be diverted from vital science to infrastructure costs like heating and lighting.

Why not visit one of our shops and browse our selection of CDs and records to find your perfect heart rhythm?