Stress during driving is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac complications such as heart attack. Now researchers have found that listening to music while driving can reduce heart stress.
"We found that participants in our experiment had less cardiac tension when listening to music while driving," said study leader Vitor Engracia Valenti, a professor at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil.
For the study, published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, the researchers analyzed the effects of music on cardiac stress among five women between the ages of 18 and 23 years.
"We chose to rate women who were not ordinary riders because people who drive frequently and have a long driving license are better adapted to stressful traffic situations," said Valenti.
The volunteers were examined on two days in different situations and in random order.
One day they drove 20 minutes at rush hour (17.30-18.30) on a three-kilometer route in a bustling area of Marilia, a medium-sized town in northwestern Sao Paulo, without listening to music.
The other day, the volunteers rode the same route at the same time of the day, but listened to instrumental music on a CD player connected to the car radio.
The use of earphones or headphones while driving is a traffic jam.
"To increase the level of traffic, we asked them to drive a car they did not own, driving could help," Valenti said.
The extent of cardiac stress was estimated by measuring heart rate variability using a heart rate monitor attached to the participant's chest.
Defined as fluctuations in the intervals between successive heartbeats, the variability of heart rate is influenced by the autonomic nervous system.
The more active the sympathetic nervous system is, the faster the heart beats, while the parasympathetic nervous system tends to slow it down.
"Increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system reduces heart rate variability, while more intense activity of the parasympathetic nervous system increases it," said Valenti.
The analysis showed a reduction in heart rate variability in the subjects who performed without music, indicating a lower activity of the parasympathetic nervous system but activation of the sympathetic nervous system.
Conversely, heart rate variability increased in the drivers who listened to music, indicating a higher level of parasympathetic nervous system activity and a reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity.
However, the sample size used in the study was too small, but significant.
"Listening to music mitigated the moderate stress overload of volunteers as they drove," Valenti said.
"Listening to music could be one such preventive measure in favor of cardiovascular health in high stress situations, such as driving in rush hour," he said.