Driving can be very stressful, particularly if you’re caught in heavy traffic or an inexperienced driver, and eventually this pressure can take its toll on the heart Researchers now say, however, that there is a simple fix for this problem: listening to the right music while driving.
A new study suggests that listening to relaxing music while driving can help relieve pressure and protect the heart.
Past research has shown that enduring frequent psychological stress in the United States can be a significant risk factor Trusted Source for cardiovascular disease, a condition that affects nearly half of those aged 20 years and older.
One source of constant stress is driving, either because of the stressors associated with heavy traffic or because of the anxiety often associated with inexperienced drivers.
Though, does this mean that people who drive on a daily basis are set to develop heart problems, or is there a simple way to relieve driving stress?
According to a recent study by researchers from the State University of São Paulo in Marília, Brazil, the University of Oxford Brookes in the UK and the University of Parma in Italy
The researchers report the motivating results of a study involving inexperienced drivers in a study paper featured in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, noting that listening to music while driving helps reduce stress that affects heart health.
“We found that cardiac stress in the participants in our experiment was reduced by listening to music while they were driving,” says Prof. Vitor Engrácia Valenti, principal investigator.
The researchers recruited five female participants between the ages of 18 and 23 who were in good health for their study, were not typical drivers they rode no more than twice a week and received their driver’s license 1–7 years before the study began.
“We opted to assess women who were not habitual drivers because people who drive frequently and have had a license for a long time are better adapted to stressful situations in traffic,” describes Prof. Valenti.
The researchers asked the volunteers to participate in two separate experiments. For one day, during the rush hour, the participants had to drive for 20 minutes on a 3 kilometer road in one of the busiest areas of Marília city. On this day, as they were riding, the participants did not play any music in the car.
The volunteers had to go through the same motions on another day, with one exception: this time, they listened to instrumental music while driving.
Participants drove cars in both cases that were not their own. This measure was necessary to ensure that there was no reduction in stress because the volunteers were familiar with the cars, the investigators explain.
“To increase the degree of traffic stress, we asked them to drive a car they didn’t own. Driving their own car might help,” states Prof. Valenti.
The investigators asked the participants to wear heart rate monitoring capable of recording heart rate variability in real time to measure the effect of stress on the heart in each experimental condition.
The activity of two key systems affects heart rate variability in the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for regulating the response of the flight or flight, which is the automatic reaction of the body to stressful, nervous situations. Meanwhile, “rest and digest” processes are responsible for the parasympathetic nervous system.
“Elevated sympathetic nervous system activity reduces heart rate variability, whereas more intense parasympathetic nervous system activity increases it,” the lead investigator states.
The researchers then analyzed the measurements they were obtaining on both occasions through the heart rate monitors.
Researchers found that they had greater heart rate variability when the participants had listened to music while driving under stressful conditions than when they had driven without any music under stressful conditions.
“Listening to music attenuated the moderate stress overload the volunteers experienced as they drove, “claims Prof. Valenti.
The lead authors clarify to readers who may question why the researchers turned exclusively to female participants in their research that at this point they wanted to be able to rule out the potential influence of sex-specific hormones.
“If both men and women were participated and we found a significant difference between the two groups, female sex hormones could have been considered responsible,” states Prof. Valenti.
The authors conclude that the outcomes of the small-scale studies indicate that listening to relaxing music can, in fact, be an effective way to prevent levels of stress from rising and impacting the heart when someone is stuck in traffic.


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