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Got rhythm? It might be what ails you.

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Usually when I write about health, I write about diet or nutrition.  I might even throw in a bit about purpose.  What I usually don’t write about is music.  No doubt, you’ve seen this video.  It went viral a couple years ago.  It’s about the power of music in a man with severe dementia.  You may even be aware of the power of music to help hospice patients.  But did you know that music is being used to treat everything from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to Parkinson’s…from anxiety to multiple sclerosis?

The use of music to treat patients goes at least as far back as Hippocrates in 400 B.C. who used music to treat mental patients.  One study that looked at how music therapy was used, found that it not only improved some diseases but that it did not have any adverse effects and was well tolerated by almost all patients.

At Seton Medical Center in Austin, people with COPD play harmonica as part of their physical therapy.  The process of blowing and drawing that is required to play the harmonica provides exercises for COPD patients that help them improve their muscle tone in their lips, cheeks and tongue.  (Here’s an article on the use of a harmonica to treat COPD.)

A 2011 study found that when people chanted, they turned down their stress and stimulus receptors.  Another study found that humming improves your breathing rate and increases your oxygen levels.  A study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that humming opened up passages and limited obstruction.

Another study looked at the natural rhythm of our bodies.  That rhythm is in everything we do, whether we are resting or active.  Scientists who study schizophrenia, epilepsy, autism and Parkinson’s disease say that those problems are associated with abnormal natural rhythms.  When everything is working well, the various parts of the body being utilized get in synch with each other.

What researchers are finding is that you can modify our body’s natural rhythm with external rhythm.  So, for example, if a patient with Parkinson’s disease is “frozen” or experiences other movement problems, they can become unfrozen with the use of music.   For those with Parkinson’s, music doesn’t cure the disease, it simply provides a break from the unnatural rhythm.

One scientist likened it to a room full of people clapping.  Eventually everyone adjusts their clapping until the claps are synchronized.  That’s what a healthy body does.  A body that is out of synch never achieves that harmony.

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