Stress while driving is a menacing force for the development of cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac complications such as heart attack (myocardial infarction).
A new study by Brazilian researchers points out that cardiac overload due to the stress of driving in heavy traffic can be undermined by listening to instrumental music.
The results of the study, which were supported by São Paulo Research Foundation ”FAPESP", are published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo (USP) in Brazil, Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom and the University of Parma in Italy also took part in this study.
The researchers investigated the effects of music on cardiac stress in five women between the ages of 18 and 23. All subjects were healthy, considered non-habitual drivers (they drove once or twice a week), and had obtained a license 1-7 years previously.
â€œWe 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,â€ Valenti explained.
The volunteers were examined on two days, in different situations and in random order. On one day, they drove for 20 minutes at rush hour (5:30-6:30 pm) along a 3 km route in a busy district of Marilia, a medium-sized city in the northwest of Sao Paulo State, without listening to music.
On the other day, the volunteers drove the same route at the same time of day but listened to instrumental music on a CD player coupled to the car radio. The use of earbuds or headphones while driving is a traffic offence.
“To increase the degree of traffic stress, we asked them to drive a car they did not own. Driving their own car might help,” Valenti said.
Outcomes of the Research
“We found that cardiac stress in the participants in our experiment was reduced by listening to music while they were driving,” Vitor EngrÃ¡cia Valenti, a professor at UNESP MarÃlia and a principal investigator of the project, told.
The level 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 consecutive heartbeats, heart rate variability is influenced by the autonomic nervous system.
Valenti said, “Elevated sympathetic nervous system activity reduces heart rate variability, whereas more intense parasympathetic nervous system activity increases it.”
The research revealed a reduction in heart rate variability in the volunteers who drove without music, indicating a lower level of parasympathetic nervous system activity but sympathetic nervous system activation.
Contrarily, 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.