Studies published in recent years have shown that stress while driving is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac complications such as myocardial infarction. An ally for risk mitigation looks like music.
Research findings by researchers at the University of Sao Paulo (UNESP) suggest that listening to loose music, such as orchestral music, could relieve stress.
The results of the study are published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
"We found that the heart rate in the participants in our experiment decreased when they listened to music while driving," said study lead Professor Vitor Engracia Valenti.
The researchers analyzed the effects of music on the heart rate of five 18-23-year-old women. All participants were healthy, were not considered very experienced drivers (they were driving 1-2 times a week) and had obtained their driver's license 1-7 years prior to conducting the research.
"We chose to evaluate women who were not very experienced drivers, because people who drive often and have a long-term diploma respond better to stressful situations while driving," explained Dr. Valenti.
The volunteers were evaluated two days, in different situations and in random order. In the first case, they drove for 20 minutes at rush hour along a three-mile route without listening to music.
The next day, the volunteers led the same route, at the same time of day, but listened to orchestral music.
"To increase the amount of pressure, we asked volunteers to drive a car that did not belong to them as driving their car could help them ," said Dr. Valenti.
Heart tests were performed using a heart rate monitor (holter) fitted to the chest of participants.
"Increased activity of the sympathetic system reduces heart rhythm variability, while increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system increases it," he explained. Valenti.
The analysis showed a decrease in heart rate variability in volunteers who drove without music, indicating a lower level of parasympathetic nervous system activity but activation of the sympathetic nervous system.
In contrast, heart rate variability increased in drivers listening to music, indicating a higher level of activity of the parasympathetic nervous system and a decrease in sympathetic activity.
"Listening to music has reduced the pressure the volunteers have felt while driving," said Dr. Valenti. The study was only for women to test the effect of sex hormones. "If both men and women were involved and we saw a significant difference between the sexes, female hormones could be held responsible," she explained.
In his view, the results of the study could contribute to the creation of preventive measures for cases of acute stress, such as driving in severe congestion.
"Listening to music could be such a precautionary measure in favor of cardiovascular health in situations of extreme stress, such as driving during rush hour," concluded Dr. Valenti.