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Prairie Fare: Listening To and Playing Music has Health Benefits

During February, American Heart Month, add a little music to your life.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

The fingers on my left hand felt as though they were on fire. I kept practicing anyway.

Playing the guitar will be so relaxing, I thought to myself. I earnestly attempted to make my disobedient fingers bend into unnatural positions and push the razorlike steel strings into place.

Our teacher had advised that, as beginners, we should practice no more than 30 minutes daily. Unfortunately, I didn’t listen very well.

Since I’ve been playing musical instruments for decades, I decided to rush the learning process. I paid the price for my impatience by having to let my fingers heal for a few days.

While my overzealous guitar playing was painful at first, researchers have shown that music is good for your health, whether you are a practicing musician or an avid listener.

For example, if you’re scheduled for surgery, you may want to bring your CD or MP3 player to the hospital. Be sure you have your favorite relaxing musical selections to enjoy before and after surgery.

A group of researchers studied 18- to 70-year-old patients who had undergone abdominal surgery. Post-surgical patients on pain medications who listened to music and/or did relaxation exercises recovered quicker than patients only receiving pain medication.

When you’re in pain after surgery, you generally don’t eat or sleep as well and your tissues may not mend as well, either. Music may help ease the pain.

Research suggests that music is good for your heart, too. Italian and British researchers recruited 24 young men and women, half of whom were trained musicians.

The participants slipped on head phones and listened to six styles of music, including rap and classical pieces, with random two-minute pauses. As the participants kicked back and listened, the researchers monitored their breathing, heart rates and blood pressure.

The researchers expected some of the results. The participants had faster heart and breathing rates when they listened to lively music. When the musical slowed, so did their heart and breathing rates.

Some results were surprising. During the musical pauses, heart and breathing rates normalized or reached more optimal levels. Whether or not a person liked the style of music did not matter. The tempo, or pace, of the music had the greatest effect on relaxation.

Although music had a positive effect on everyone, trained musicians experienced greater effects on their heart and breathing rates. The researchers speculated that the trained musicians had learned to breathe in time with the music.

As we move closer to the Valentine’s Day observance, we may think of music stirring the heart. Consider this: Music also may play a role in helping prevent heart disease.

During February, American Heart Month, add a little music to your life. To reap the greatest health benefits, you might want to start learning an instrument, too.

If learning guitar is your goal, consider this tip: Don’t practice too long.

Here’s a recipe based on a classic Midwest hot dish. To make it more heart-healthy, I reduced the fat and sodium content by eliminating added fat and using lower-sodium ingredients. For more information about healthy eating, visit the NDSU Extension Service Web site at

Classic Midwest Beef and Rice Hot Dish

1 c. rice

5 c. boiling water

1 pound lean ground beef

4 strips bacon, fried crisp

1 c. diced celery

2 medium onions, chopped

1 can cream of mushroom soup (reduced sodium)

4 Tbsp. soy sauce (light)

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

Fry bacon until crisp; drain thoroughly. Brown ground beef with onions and celery; drain fat. Spray large casserole pan with nonstick cooking spray. Measure rice into pan and pour boiling water over rice. Stir in soup, soy sauce and brown sugar. Add crisp bacon and cooked meat mixture. Stir well. In a 350-degree oven, bake one hour covered and 20 to 30 minutes uncovered.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 200 calories, 25 grams (g) of carbohydrate and 5 g of fat.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph,D., L.R.D, is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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