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Healing music

Music can arouse and calm, and these reactions can have a positive effect on stroke patients according to research in Italy.  

Claims by Music in Hospitals and the Stroke Association that music can aid stroke suffers and those with heart conditions have been supported by a study in Italy which showed that listening to music can slow the heart and lower blood pressure.

Not only is it cheap and easy to administer, music has discernible physical effects on the body as well as mood.

Rousing operatic music, like Puccini's Nessun Dorma, full of crescendos and diminuendos is best for stroke rehabilitation. Music with a faster tempo increases breathing, heart rate and blood pressure, while slower-pace music does the reverse, say the authors.

Dr Luciano Bernardi and colleagues, from Italy's Pavia University, asked 24 healthy volunteers to listen to five random tracks of classical music and monitored how their bodies responded.

They included selections from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, an aria from Puccini's Turandot, Bach's cantata No 169, Va Pensiero from Nabucco and Libiam Nei Lieti Calici from La Traviata.

Musical crescendos led to narrowing of blood vessels, increased blood pressure and heart rate and greater respiratory rates, in effect arousing the body. 

The diminuendos caused relaxation, which slowed heart rate and lowered blood pressure.

Opera best for circulation and the heart 

The researchers tested out various combinations of music and silence on the volunteers and found tracks rich in emphasis that alternated between fast and slow, like operatic music, appeared to be the best for the circulation and the heart.

Verdi's arias appeared to synchronise perfectly with the natural cardiovascular rhythm.

Dr Bernadi said: "Music induces a continuous, dynamic - and to some extent predictable - change in the cardiovascular system.  These findings increase our understanding of how music could be used in rehabilitative medicine."

Diana Greenman, chief executive of Music in Hospitals which provides live music to hospitals, hospices and care homes, said: "The power of music is incredible. We have seen enormous benefits in people who have had strokes or heart attacks.

"I hear time and again of stroke patients who are able to move in time to the music after previously being paralysed."

A spokesman for the Stroke Association agreed: "Many of our support groups use music and singing techniques to aid stroke survivors' recoveries."

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