We’ve all been there: rush hour. The road home is jammed with stop-and-go traffic. Horns blare. Stress levels boil. It’s enough to make the heart race.
Indeed, driving stress has been associated with many cardiovascular problems. What might reduce all this tension and make us healthier? Turn on the radio. A study by an international team of researchers says listening to soothing instrumental music during a traffic-clogged commute appears to relieve cardiac stress.
Their study involved women, ages 18 to 23, who were asked to twice take a 20-minute drive in a medium-sized Brazilian city during rush hour. On one trip, they listened to instrumental music; the second time, the radio was turned off.
The researchers chose volunteers who were relatively inexperienced drivers, assuming that veteran motorists would be better able to cope with stress of the road, thereby skewing the results of the experiment. They also had the volunteers drive cars they did not own, which also increased the degree of traffic stress. And they chose only women to control for the factor of sex hormones. If men had participated as well, and the results were different, the female hormones might have been considered responsible, they said.
Using a heart-rate monitor was associated with a statistically significant increase in heart rate fluctuation that pointed to a reduction in heart stress during the musical commutes. Such fluctuations go up during periods of relaxation.
So, turning on the tunes in a traffic jam might be good for the heart. But keep in mind that the music used was soothing instrumental numbers. Raucous rock or bass-thumping hip-hop may not produce the same results.