Heart Health and Music: A Steady Beat or Irregular Rhythm?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Heart disease is the primary cause of death in the United States. Those who suffer from heart disease either die prematurely or suffer a marked decrease in quality of life. Medical practitioners in the United States have accepted music to address patient needs, including those with cardiac conditions, for over 100 years. Music therapy practices attest to the viability of music therapy for cardiovascular well being. However, a representative sampling of research in music therapy and heart health measurements reveals inconsistencies. In addition, researchers neglect to give sufficient criteria or details of the musical selections. These conditions in the research data are analogous to an irregular rhythmic pattern. A steady beat at regular intervals is necessary for a healthy heart. Just so, a more consistent steady beat of research designs and choice of music would allow more predictable results for clinical practice and thereby promote cardiovascular health.

Since heart disease is currently the primary cause of mortality and morbidity in the United States, heart health or cardiovascular well being is an important concern for all of us. Music therapy has been able to expand the use of music as medicine in the last fifty years. Clinical practices attest to the viability of music therapy for cardiovascular health. Nevertheless, research in the area of music therapy and heart health measurements presents problems. Ideally this research would be like the steady beat of a healthy heart. However, the inconsistencies in research designs and unclear criteria for selecting music resemble an irregular pattern of rhythm.

Importance of Cardiovascular Health

The human heart is a rhythmic muscle, and when it is working correctly, it contracts with a steady beat pushing out more than 14,000 pints of blood a day (Martin, 2002). All human beings rely on the heart's regular and rhythmic pulsation. However, there are numerous heart diseases from mild arrhythmia to a deadly heart attack that prevent this necessary regularity. In fact, more people in the United States die every year from heart problems than from cancer, chronic lung disease, pneumonia, influenza, diabetes and all accidents combined (Martin, 2002). There are specific heart disease risk factors such as sedentary behavior, overeating, consuming foods high in fat and sodium, and cigarette smoking (Levi, Lucchini, Negri, & La Vecchia, 2002; Luepker, Perry et al., 1996; Vale, 2000). Health care educators have concentrated on community education with moderate results (Luepker, Rastam et al., 1996). The most effective programs have been with young adults and school-aged children (Luepker, Perry et al., 1996). Even though there is a growing awareness of the need for healthier lifestyles and the rate of mortality from heart disease has declined in the United States since the 1970's (Levi et al., 2002), cardiovascular disease still remains the leading cause of mortality and morbidity (decreased quality of life) in the United States (Luepker, Perry et al., 1996; Vale, 2000). For this reason, it is a primary health care concern.

Music in Medicine

Medical practitioners in the United States have turned to music to help address patient needs for over 100 years (Washco, 1933).

Patients may also be amenable to music as an adjunct to medical treatment. One recent study of 246 patients who were scheduled for cardiac surgery showed that 81 % of the patients confirmed use of complementary or alternative therapies (Ai & Boiling, 2002).

Music therapy, which began in the United States as a formalized profession in 1950, has continued to expand the use of music in medicine. The American Music Therapy Association (2001, January) provides a monograph, Music Therapy and Medicine, which documents several prominent physicians who endorse the role of music therapy as essential in patient rehabilitation in the medical setting.

Music Therapy in Cardiovascular Well Being

Over the last fifty years, music therapy has developed clinical practices based on research which attest to the viability of music therapy in areas vital for cardiovascular well being; for example, stress management, alteration of physiological measures such as heart rate and blood pressure, and positive changes in mood and emotional states. …