Music, the mind and our health: how it’s all connected


Music has the power to make us feel a myriad of emotions; it can make us laugh, move us and even make us cry. But why? We find out


Wherever you look these days, it feels like everyone has a tiny white gadget plugged into their ears.

At the office, on the train, at home, at the checkout, these ear canal accessories are the lifeline to our music, entertainment and conversations.

And there’s no wonder we carry this gateway to our amusement in our back pockets. Findings show that, globally, we listen to more than 20 hours of music every week.

Meanwhile, 65% of Brits enjoy a dulcet tune daily, and only 2% people in the UK listen to music less than weeklyIt’s fair to say, the average Brit will spend a lot of their time listening to music – with or without a tiny gizmo.

Whatever your gadget of choice, the truth is, you’re doing something good for your brain. Researchers at John Hopkins cite that few things stimulate the brain the way that music does.

According to the findings, music is “structural, mathematical and architectural”, triggering a lot of computing to make sense of the vibrations being transmitted to our brain.

This, in turn, helps exercise the brain and boost cognitive function, and reduce anxiety, improve mood, alertness and memory.

Music also stimulates the limbic system – responsible for emotion – and the motor cortex, which controls our movement.

Mood and music

On that note... have you ever been moved to tears by a song? Found yourself with goose bumps when you hear a tune?

Birth playlists are a thing, and music is a tool used by athletes to enhance performance – but why?

Music has the power to influence the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, two critical neuromodulators that play a significant role in our mood and behaviour, or activate our parasympathetic nervous system – a network of nerves that relaxes the body after a period of stress-induced secretion of cortisol and adrenaline.


And this direct influence on our nervous system is what Dr Julia Jones, neuroscientist founder of Holidity and author of The Music Diet, explains as the reason for these physiological responses when we hear music.

“Sound and music are a fast-acting stimulus, providing the brain with information that helps it decide whether we are in an environment that is safe or potentially threatening to our survival,” she tells Vitality Magazine.

“The resulting electrochemical responses determine our emotions, actions and behaviour.”

She adds: “This means we can harness this system and trigger a response we require by deciding the type of sound or music that we listen to.

“Upbeat songs tend to mimic the sounds of potential danger – fast drumbeats, loud, high-energy instrumentation and voices – and this can be highly effective in producing a fight or flight-type response to boost neuromodulators that increase motivation, confidence and continued action.”

So, what are some ways that we can use music to our advantage?

Music as a natural biohack

Marching percussions were an early form of music as a motivator. The primary function was to help soldiers keep in time with a beat while marching, but also to boost morale.

Having moved on from this era, Jones was privy to a more modern way that the military uses music to their advantage.

In the 90s, she witnessed US Navy SEALs using music as a natural biohack in order to manipulate and encourage a desired result from its soldiers.

“Music definitely helps me to get into the zone before a game

Nat Sciver-Brunt, Vitality Ambassador and England cricket player

“The elite military were using [music] to reduce anxiety, boost endurance, motivation, confidence,” she explains. After seeing this in action, she applied her findings to British Olympic squads training for major sporting events.

“And I have been using it ever since with elite sports clients, employers and the NHS. Music delivers  marginal gains that can change an outcome.”

In 2023, Jones collaborated with Universal Production Music to launch a collection of ‘MusicHacks’ that use the specific breathing technique she was taught by the SEALs.

Julia_Jones_music_article_headshotPictured: Dr Julia Jones

These bio-engineered tracks on Spotify and Apple Music use a specific time signature that facilitates an extended exhale to help the listener efficiently reach resonance frequency rate to maximize the training effect on the autonomic nervous system.

Jones says: “This is a powerful tool for high performance as it enables the listener to reach a stimulated but controlled and focused meditative state. We’ve used this bioengineered technique across multiple genres so listeners can match this training practice with their preferred music taste.”

Today, athletes often use music to reduce stress and anxiety before, during and after training or competitions.

Findings show that it has ergogenic benefits, a term experts use to describe improvements in athletic performance, during varying exercises, be it endurance, running or resistance-based activities.

However, it’s not as clear-cut as playing a piece of motivational music and the athlete will be shielded from nerves or other stressors.

Many factors can influence a player’s performance; but for music to have the desired effect, researchers have found that to maximize the benefits it’s beneficial to listen to music they have strong personal connections with.

“Emerging evidence has shown that whether an individual prefers or does not prefer the music they are listening to during exercise greatly influences their ergogenic potential in addition to physiological, psychological and psychophysiological responses to exercise,” the study found.

Interestingly, the research also showed that an increase in activity was seen during a warm-up when an athlete’s preferred music was played.

Find your rhythm

We asked some of our Ambassadors about the music they listen to as part of their pre-comp ritual.

Ellie Simmonds, Paralympic swimmer, who retired in 2021, tended to opt for Drake, Coldplay or – more often – Eminem Lose Yourself before her swim meets; while Nat Sciver-Brunt – the England cricket legend – listens to Becky Hill Disconnect.

“Music definitely helps me to get into the zone before a game, and actually get my head out of it too, so I’m not over thinking too much,” says Vitality Ambassador and women’s cricket legend, Nat Sciver-Brunt.

She adds: “It’s hugely motivating. In the past I’ve been in charge of the playlist before the game with the team and we each put a song on to get us going. It’s so much fun and great to get us all ready to go on the field.”

But music doesn’t just have to be used pre-competition. There are so many ways that you can embed music into your daily life to both spur you on and calm you down.

“My advice to anyone wanting to adopt music as a biohack in life or sport is to first build a playlist of two types of songs: one that makes you feel calm and one that makes you feel energised,” adds Jones.

“Find the songs from your favourites that work for you and then build them into your training routine, or your daily habits for sleep, relaxation and mindset.”

Need a killer playlist that will get you moving? Why not check out the motivational songs from some of our star cricket players with the Vitality Blast Playlist


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