We’ve all experienced the instant and profound effect that music can have on our emotions.

However, music’s effects are not just emotional, but also physical. Music has long been used in healing rituals around the world, and science suggests there’s a good reason that’s been the case.

The human heartbeat is particularly attuned to music.

Our heart rate responds to musical variables such as frequency, tempo, and volume and tends to speed up or slow down to match the rhythm of a sound. The faster the music, the faster the heart will beat; the slower the music, the slower the heart beats, which creates less physical tension and stress, calms the mind, and helps the body relax.

The effects of music start as early as life in the womb. Research conducted by the Institute of Behavioural Sciences at the University of Helsinki, showed the longer a fetus is exposed to certain sounds, the more positively its development is affected. They studied pregnant females that listened to music five times per week from 29 weeks of pregnancy. After birth, scientists found that the babies reacted to the same sounds and showed a significant event-related potential when they were exposed to the music again. This shows that continually exposing a fetus to the same sounds may be beneficial to the development of its auditory and brain functions.

This can also have an impact on the pregnant mother. In a study of expectant mothers conducted by the College of Nursing at Haohsiung Medical University in Taiwan, it was found that after just two weeks of listening to CDs of Brahms lullaby, music by Beethoven and Debussy, nature sounds and traditional Chinese children’s songs, the pregnant mothers showed significant reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression.

When music enters the ear, it’s converted to electrical signals. The signals travel up the auditory nerve to the brain’s auditory cortex, which processes sound. From there, the brain’s responses to music become much more complex.

One brain area that’s drawn interest in recent years is the medial prefrontal cortex, located just behind the eyes. The medial prefrontal cortex is a central hub linking music, memories and emotion. Activation in this area of the brain is strongest when listening to music that evokes a specific memory or emotion.

Music can not only improve your overall health and wellbeing, but it can also help you lose weight!

In a study conducted at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s School of Psychology, 41 overweight to moderately obese women followed a 24-week programme that consisted of dieting, walking and participating in weekly group meetings. The women were assigned to one of two groups. The first group of women were given CD players and told to listen to the music of their choice while they walked. The other group also walked, but without the music.

When the 24 weeks were over, results showed that the music-walkers did a better job of sticking to their walking programme (98% adherent) than the non-music-walkers (only 68% adherent). Even more impressive than that, the women in the music group lost an average of 16 pounds and 5% of their body fat, while the non-music women lost an average of only 8 pounds and 2% of their body fat.

Every genre of music has its benefits. So make the most of them by mixing up your playlists every once in a while and see what physical and psychological effect it has on your health and wellbeing.