NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Music may indeed soothe the savage breast, according to a study showing that people's cardiovascular rhythms tend to fall in step with musical ones.
In a study published Monday in the journal Circulation, Italian researchers found that healthy adults' heart rate, blood pressure and blood flow changed in response to musical crescendos and decrescendos.
Using several classical music selections, the investigators found that musical crescendos -- a gradual increase in volume and intensity -- generally led to increases in blood vessel constriction, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate. The opposite was true with decrescendos, a gradual decrease in the music's volume.
The findings, say the researchers, bolster the case for using music as a form of therapy for high blood pressure and other cardiovascular ills.
"The profile of music (crescendo or decrescendo) is continuously tracked by the cardiovascular and respiratory systems," lead researcher Dr. Luciano Bernardi, a professor of internal medicine at Pavia University, said in a news release from the American Heart Association.
"This is particularly evident when music is rich in emphasis, like in operatic music," Bernardi explained. "These findings increase our understanding of how music could be used in rehabilitative medicine."
The study included 24 young adults, half were trained singers and half had no musical background. Each participant listened to various classical and operatic music selections while attached to monitors that tracked heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and dilation in the blood vessels just below the skin.
The researchers found that along with the responses to crescendos and decrescendos, certain rhythmic musical phrases seemed to synchronize participants' "inherent cardiovascular rhythms."
The phrases, from two pieces by Verdi, were about 10 seconds long, Bernardi's team notes, which is similar to the standard oscillations in blood pressure.
In contrast, a more "intellectual" solo singing piece by Bach had relatively little effect on cardiovascular rhythms.
The researchers point out that the cardiovascular responses were seen even in the absence of emotional responses to the music and altered breathing was not necessary to see cardiovascular effects.
The findings, the researchers say, suggest that music somehow directly affects nervous system control of cardiovascular rhythms.
"Music induces a continuous, dynamic -- and to some extent predictable
-- change in the cardiovascular system," Bernardi said. "It is not only the emotion that creates the cardiovascular changes, but this study suggests that also the opposite might be possible, that cardiovascular changes may be the substrate for emotions, likely in a bi-directional way."
SOURCE: Circulation: Journal of the American Medical Association, June 30, 2009.