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Music Makes a Difference During Cardiac Stress Tests, Study Finds


The study will be presented during the 67th American College of Cardiology Scientific Session in Orlando, Florida.

There’s a reason people wear headphones with their favorite music while walking on the treadmill—it keeps them moving. It turns out that music has the same effect during a cardiac stress test, and that can help clinicians get more information about a person’s health.

A small study to be presented this weekend at the 67th American College of Cardiology Scientific Session compared 67 patients who heard up-tempo music during a scheduled electrocardiogram (ECG) treadmill stress test and those who had no music during their scheduled test (60 patients).

Patients who could hear music were able to exercise 50 seconds longer than those who had no music. The findings were not a surprise, said lead author, Waseem Shami, MD, because it was something researchers “intuitively knew,” but now they shown it to be true.

Shami is a cardiology fellow at Texas Tech University Health Sciences in El Paso, Texas.

To ensure that the staff didn’t know which patients could hear music, everyone in the study wore headphones during the test. Patients had similar histories, including hypertension and diabetes, and most were Hispanic, which reflects the population where the study took place. There were more women than men in both the music and control groups (61.2% and 66.7%).

A treadmill stress test is not easy. Under a standardized protocol, both the speed and incline increase every 3 minutes for a maximum of 20 minutes, and most healthy people start to feel some strain after 6 minutes. In the study, the average absolute time for the music group was 505.8 seconds, compared with 455.2 seconds for the control group. The difference is significant, Shami said.

Why is a longer stress test important? Cardiac stress tests show a person’s fitness level, assess the heart’s response to exercise, and help diagnose blocked arteries. The harder the heart works, the more likely the test is to reveal underlying problems. Cholesterol that is blocking an artery may not prevent blood flow when the heart is working at its normal pace, but it could show up if the heart is stressed during exercise.

“At least on a small scale, this study provides some evidence that music may help serve as an extra tool to help motivate someone to exercise more,” Shami said. One limitation is that everyone in the study listened to the same Latin music—those allowed to pick their own music might be more motivated to exercise longer.

The ACC Scientific Session takes place March 9 to 12, 2018, in Orlando, Florida.

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