I often promote laughter as the best medicine.  But music is good medicine, too! 

Music training has been shown to increase brain plasticity.  Or bridge the cerebral hemispheres.  Or do something else neurologic I don’t quite understand. 

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Stroke patients have demonstrated improved mood and memory following music therapy (unless subjected to incessant death metal music).

And in one study, pre-op patients who listened to music were less anxious than those who got an anti-anxiety drug.  (The group that received both Valium and Kenny G died instantly.)

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Heck, The Doobie Brothers even sang “Music is the doctor,” which is a strong statement from a band that obviously was an early proponent of medical marijuana. 

Singing is especially therapeutic.  Like laughter, it has been shown to help relieve pain, dilate blood vessels, reduce stress hormone levels and boost antibodies. 

So it’s no surprise that music is becoming more common in healthcare.  In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a song recommendation for everyone: “Row Row Row Your Boat.”  You’re supposed to sing it when you wash your hands.  That way you know you’ve washed away all the germs.  I’m a germophobe, though, so I always sing Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  Twice.  It’s like ten minutes long, folks!  I know it’s a bit odd in public restrooms but, hey, I’m always very clean!  And I love it when the guys in the stalls hold up their lighters for me.  (Serves two purposes!)

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Not to be outdone, the American Heart Association (AHA) has a song recommendation for you if you ever need to do CPR: The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”  It’s true!  It’s part of the CPR training now!  Just remember to avoid the Travolta moves!  You must keep both hands on the patient when doing chest compressions!  Obviously the song is easy to remember.  And it’s a good mantra to have when trying to save someone’s life.  But most important, it has the perfect number of beats per minute for effective CPR.  It took the AHA a while to figure out the best song.  First they recommended you sing Elton John’s old hit “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”  It was the right message but it was too slow; all the patients died.  Then they had the opposite problem—meaning they had the right beats per minute but the wrong message—when they recommended Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”  Worst of all was Roberta Flack’s lovely old ballad “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”  Too slow AND very inappropriate! 

But why stop at hand washing and CPR?  There are so many great songs for other procedures and medical specialties. 

Cardiologists have the most playlist options, as there are many songs about broken hearts.

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Psychiatrists have a lot of options, too, but they usually just play Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” on a loop.

Obstetricians like Semisonic’s “Closing Time” for childbirth.  (Really.  Listen carefully to the clever lyrics!)

Orthopedic surgeons opt for Hip Hop and George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone.”  (They also sing “Head Shoulders Knees & Toes” quietly to themselves as a pre-op anatomy refresher.)

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Any good ophthalmology playlist starts with “Doctor, My Eyes” by Jackson Browne and ends with Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.”

Sex reassignment surgeons have Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and of course “Lola” by The Kinks.

Dermatology procedures tend to be quick and easy (and expensive!)  So the whole list is usually “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Frank Sinatra) followed by Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.”

I’m sure you have your own favorites.  Feel free to (ahem) chime in.  And while music may be good medicine, it’s certainly no panacea.  Rocker David Bowie, who received an honorary doctorate from Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 1999, offered this pearl of wisdom to his peers: “Any list of advice I have to offer to a musician always ends with, ‘If it itches, go and see a doctor.’”

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The Healthy Humorist®—Brad Nieder, MD—is a doctor, funny speaker and clean comedian who believes laughter is the best medicine ... unless you have giggle bladder incontinence.  Dr. Brad dispenses healthcare humor with wellness advice and an uplifting message to audiences across the country.  (www.healthyhumorist.com, (303) 364-9061, www.facebook.com/healthyhumorist, @HealthyHumorist)

Copyright © 2015 Brad Nieder, MD, CSP

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