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Music and mood: Why turning up Wham! and Duran Duran could boost your health

March 15, 2021

When you want to unwind, what do you do? Maybe you go for a run or put your feet up with a book? However, research suggests one of the best things you could do is turn up some music. But don’t just put on any tune – 80s pop could be the best at reducing anxiety.

Researchers hooked up over 1,500 volunteers to blood pressure and heart rate monitors and then played them a variety of music. Songs from the 80s were the most effective at reducing stress, according to a report in the Daily Mail. It discovered the likes of Wham!, Pet Shop Boys, and Duran Duran can reduce blood pressure, an indicator of low anxiety, when compared to other genres. Some 96% of volunteers were less anxious when listening to 80s music.

High blood pressure can have a serious impact on your health, including increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. In some people, feelings of anxiety or stress can trigger high blood pressure. While choosing the right music isn’t a substitute for lifestyle changes or medical treatment, the findings present an interesting view on how music can improve wellbeing.

Other genres had a positive impact on wellbeing too, including 2000s pop and even heavy metal. In contrast, techno, dubstep, and 70s rock anthems made blood pressure rise.

The music genres that had a positive impact might seem like a strange mix. The researchers suggest upbeat pop music can induce endorphins and serotonin in the brain, which increase feelings of happiness and calm. They also propose that heavy metal music can help listeners process feelings better, leading to lower levels of stress.

The new study challenges previous research, which indicates calming classical music is more likely to reduce stress. So, is it just the beats that are leading to less anxiety? Nostalgia is likely playing a role.

Why a bit of nostalgia is good for you

Music can take you back, sometimes decades. A favourite tune from the 80s might transport you to simpler, more carefree times in your past. In some cases, it might also be the memories associated with the music that has a calming effect.

In the past, however, nostalgia wasn’t seen as a positive emotion.

When the term was first coined in the 17th century, it described a medical condition and form of melancholy. It was associated with a yearning for the past. That may be true in some cases, but many people feel nostalgic when they fondly remember past experiences while still enjoying the present.

Clay Routledge, a professor of management at North Dakota State University, who has recently published a study on nostalgia, set out some of the benefits of reminiscing about the past in a Wall Street Journal article. These include:

  • Helping to find creative inspiration
  • Improving self-confidence and optimism
  • Helping people feel more connected
  • Providing a greater sense of meaning
  • Offering motivation to pursue goals.

In fact, a growing body of evidence suggests nostalgia can be a good thing and even help you move forward in life. Routledge notes that while nostalgic memories often contain a mixture of emotions, the positive usually outweighs the negative. Revisiting childhood memories or important life events doesn’t have to be a negative experience – it can be valuable.

“Step back in time”

Sometimes we’ll be nostalgic due to how we’re feeling, but more often there’s a specific trigger. It could be the smell of dinner cooking that takes you back to your childhood home, a chat with an old friend that reminds you of a holiday, or a certain song playing on the radio.

Listening to music can evoke strong memories. Research suggests that because music provides a rhythm and rhyme, it can help unlock memories we have stored but can’t quite remember. With the right music playing you may be able to retrieve every detail of a certain event but struggle without the soundtrack. There’s a strong link between music, memory, and emotions.

Putting on the right playlist could let you “step back in time” (released in 1980!) a la Kylie Minogue, and go a long way to improve your mood.

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