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Music May Be as Beneficial for Mental Health as Exercise, Research Suggests

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Mar 29, 2022

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Image Credit: Alamy

The relationship between exercise and improved mental health is one that, paradoxically, can be a source of despair for some. It is a snake that eats its tail: exercise can help get you out of a slump, but the mental health low is what keeps you from mustering the energy to exercise in the first place. New research, however, holds potential hope: it suggests that playing, singing, or listening to music may have the same mental health benefits as exercising or losing weight.

Published last week in JAMA Network Open, the research was a meta-analysis that looked at 26 previous studies on the impact of music on health. These were then compared to those that examined the impact of non-medical interventions in mental health — such as exercise. While many studies have suggested a link between music and wellbeing, the extent of it has been left undetermined and is a question scientists are still trying to answer.

The analysis ranged from studies that looked at music-listening, to formal music therapy; even including a few studies on singing, and one on gospel music. A wide range of music-related activities was thus considered — with promising results overall.


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Not only was music found to be comparable to exercise in terms of the mental health boosts it offered, but the compendium of studies also showed how adding music therapy to existing treatment regimens can provide a greater boost to people’s mental wellbeing.

As an activity, listening to music is pleasurable without requiring individuals to pull from already depleted energy reserves. “While uptake and adherence challenges persist with other non–pharmaceutical/medical interventions (e.g., weight loss, exercise), music is ‘reliably ranked as one of life’s greatest pleasures,'” the researchers note.

Researchers do caution, however, that the effect could vary across individuals. Moreover, we shouldn’t yet be too ready to give up on exercise yet: “Changes in mental HRQOL [health-related quality of life] associated with music interventions were within the range, albeit at the low end, of average effects of established non–pharmaceutical and medical interventions,” the paper states.

But as a treatment intervention, on the whole, the present findings augment the potential of music in providing substantial mental health benefits.

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Written By Rohitha Naraharisetty

Rohitha Naraharisetty is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. Previously, she was a freelance writer and independent researcher working in the intersection of gender, social movements, and international relations. She can be found on Instagram at @rohitha_97 or on Twitter at @romimacaronii.

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