Page last updated at 23:02 GMT, Monday, 22 June 2009 00:02 UK

Opera 'is music for the heart'

Listening to Pavarotti sing Nessun Dorma could help stroke rehabilitation

Listening to the right kind of music can slow the heart and lower blood pressure, a study has revealed.

Rousing operatic music, like Puccini's Nessun Dorma, full of crescendos and diminuendos is best and could help stroke rehabilitation, say the authors.

Music is already used holistically at the bedside in many hospitals.

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

Music with a faster tempo increases breathing, heart rate and blood pressure, while slower-pace music does the reverse.

Music induces a continuous, dynamic - and to some extent predictable - change in the cardiovascular system
Lead researcher Dr Luciano Bernardi

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.

Every musical crescendo - a gradual volume increase - "aroused" the body and led to narrowing of blood vessels under the skin, increased blood pressure and heart rate and increased respiratory rates.

Conversely, the diminuendos - gradual volume decreases - caused relaxation, which slowed heart rate and lowered blood pressure.

Swelling crescendos

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, which follow music phrases that are 10 seconds long, appeared to synchronise perfectly with the natural cardiovascular rhythm.

The power of music is just incredible
Diana Greenman, chief executive of Music in Hospitals

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."

Music in Hospitals is a UK-based charity that provides live music to hospitals, hospices and care and residential homes across the country. It was originally set up after World War II to help injured veterans.

Its chief executive, Diana Greenman, said: "We have seen enormous benefits in people who have had strokes or heart attacks. The power of music is just incredible.

"Music is holistic, but I hear time and again of stroke patients who suddenly are able to move in time to the music after previously being paralysed."

She said it was important to tailor the performance to the individual, since not all people appreciate the same music.

A spokesman for the Stroke Association said: "We have seen from previous pieces of research that a positive emotional state - that can be brought on from listening to music - can help stroke survivors.

"In fact, many of our support groups use music and singing techniques to aid stroke survivors' recoveries.

"We would therefore welcome further research into this particular study which could help benefit the 150,000 people affected by stroke each year."

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