Music can improve mental wellbeing as much as exercise.

Research claims music is as good for your mental health as exercise – I’m a fitness editor and I agree

Posted by for Wellbeing

Breaking news: new research suggests that singing in the shower is just as good for your mental wellbeing as exercise. Here’s why Strong Women editor Miranda Larbi agrees.

Getting sweaty is good for you in so many ways. As a runner, going out for a gentle 10k is my way of releasing stress and catching up with my partner. If I need to get somewhere, I’ll cycle; if I want to feel accomplished, I’ll do a hill-sprint session; and if I need something all-consuming, there’s always the local lido. But for pure mental release, music is the answer.

A new review, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, has analysed 26 studies across several countries and concluded that music provides a clinically significant boost to mental health. And what’s more, that boost may be equal to the improvement we get from exercise. 

Seven studies involved music therapy, 10 looked at the impact of simply listening to music, eight explored singing and one looked at gospel music. The review found that “music interventions were associated with clinically meaningful improvements” in wellbeing and that those benefits are similar whether you play, listen or sing.

Most interestingly, however, the authors suggested that the benefits of music on mental health is close to the improvements exercise provides to our wellbeing.

As a fitness editor, you might think that I’d refute those findings; my passion is in encouraging folk to move because of the overwhelmingly positive impact it can have on mood, sleep, energy and overall happiness. But I know only too well how powerful music can be. 

I’ve been playing in symphony orchestras since I started high school. I can’t remember much about how I felt crossing various finish lines but the moment I put the second movement of Verdi’s Requiem on, I’m transported back to sitting in the double bass section at York Minster during my final concert at university, battling to contain the tears. When I think of a truly happy moment, I picture myself travelling back from Peterborough on a train listening to Faithless’s Crazy English Summer. The only yoga classes that are truly enjoyable and engaging (in my opinion) are those that have Beautiful Chorus playing in the background.

Music allows us, in a similar way to exercise, to explore every emotion. Just as you might feel anger, joy, relief and worry during a long run, so you might while listening to an album or playlist. It’s by facilitating that smorgasbord of emotions without needing to hold back that we can allow ourselves to feel whatever our minds need us to feel.

Often, exercise is caught up with societal demands. Who can really say that they’ve never exercised for weight loss or to live the ‘wellness lifestyle’? 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. 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.

Music can’t replace exercise for many reasons but it can get you in the mood to move, keep you motivated on the road or help soothe you when you return. If you ever see me running, I’ve always got my headphones on, listening to some TOWIE-esque house music.

With so much doom and gloom around us, it’s probably not a bad idea to give yourself a break from all the chatter and plug in to something that’s going to – scientifically – boost your mental health. Right, I’m off to dig out that Faithless CD.

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Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.