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Is music as beneficial for mental health as exercise?

New research has empirically confirmed something us melophiles already assumed: that playing, listening, or singing along to our favourite tunes can lead to the same improvements in wellbeing as working out.

If you’ve struggled or are currently struggling with mental health issues then I’m sure that, at one point or another, you’ve been advised by family, friends, and medical professionals alike to leave the house and do some exercise.

This is because, as is common knowledge, physical activity – whether that be an intensive gym session, 30 minutes of hot yoga, or one of those daily walks you’re starting to despise – enhances our self-esteem and releases a ton of feel-good hormones (which, in my experience, only tend to last until the muscle-ache sets in and I’m angsty once again).

But has anyone ever recommended you ditch the dumbbells and pop in your headphones instead? The likely answer is no.

Though that could be about to change thanks to new research which has empirically confirmed something us melophiles already assumed: that music is just as beneficial as working out when it comes to fighting everything from depression and PTSD to anxiety and OCD.

Yep, you heard right, if you’re not a fan of getting your sweat on and moving your body on a regular basis, playing, listening, or singing along to your favourite tunes will do the trick.

And while this might sound far-fetched, the findings actually make a lot of sense.

Analysing 26 studies across several countries including the US, Australia, and England, the review’s authors investigated topics such as stress-reduction through playing instruments, group-singing’s impact on the wellbeing of people with chronic conditions, and the results of music therapy.

They discovered all of these interventions to be linked with ‘clinically meaningful improvements’ in quality of life, on par with the average effects of non-pharmaceutical solutions.

Lisa Simpson listening to music in a box | Music cover photos, Playlist covers photos, Cover art

‘The impact of music on our human experience is undeniable,’ Anna Boyd, LPC tells VeryWellMind.

‘It is widely accepted that exercise boosts the impacts of self-esteem and the increase of positive hormonal activity within the brain and body. Like exercise, music elicits responses from the brain activity to respond to the vibrations that are associated with the act of listening and receiving.’

In simpler terms, jamming to vibey tracks or belting high-energy bangers can release neurotransmitters in the brain that target our reward centre, increasing motivation, boosting mood, and decreasing tension the same way a 10K has the potential to.

It also allows us to explore every emotion like the anger, joy, and worry that may arise during a long run, enhances otherwise mundane activities, and can snap us out of negative spaces.

Music to the ears (pun very much intended) of those among us who refute the outlandish claims that exercising will instantly fix us and who understandably want to avoid the societal demands that its often caught up in.

‘It takes years sometimes to get to a place where you’re able to move because you simply like how it makes you feel. There’s something more innate about music,’ Miranda Larbi tells Stylist.

‘You don’t have to teach yourself to like it or concentrate on making singing in the shower part of your routine. It’s often just something that happens, whether our housemates like it or not.’

To be honest, I’m not that surprised. What I am, however, is relieved that the next time I don’t fancy going on a stupid walk for my stupid mental health, my beloved Spotify playlists will be waiting patiently to lend me a helping hand.