Music could improve results from cardiac stress tests, based on a recent study that found playing upbeat music extended the time patients were able to exercise on a treadmill during stress tests. Results were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 67th Annual Scientific Session, which brings together cardiovascular specialists from around the world to share the latest in treatment and prevention.
Conducted by researchers at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, this study looked at the impact of music during cardiac stress tests. Stress tests are used to measure the effects of exercise on the heart. They help evaluate patients’ fitness levels, assess symptoms of chest pain and diagnose blockages in the heart’s arteries.
The recent study included 127 patients with an average age of 53, all of whom underwent stress tests on a treadmill. Participants were given headphones but only half had music playing while they exercised.
During the test, treadmill speed and incline increased every three minutes until participants gave up or they reached the maximum time.
After analysis, researchers found that participants listening to music exercised for nearly one minute more (50.6 seconds), on average, than those with no music. They also achieved higher average heart rates, which helps provide more detailed test results.
As authors note, the maximum length of a stress test is 20 minutes, although most healthy people last seven to eight minutes. In this study, participants in the music group lasted nearly 8.5 minutes, while those in the control group lasted just over 7.5 minutes.
"After six minutes, you feel like you are running up a mountain, so even being able to go 50 seconds longer means a lot," explains Waseem Shami, MD, a cardiology fellow at Texas Tech University Health Sciences in El Paso, TX, and the study’s lead author. The longer a patient lasts on the treadmill, the more likely they are to reach their target heart rate. Reaching that target rate during stress tests helps provide critical information about a patient’s fitness and heart health.
Whether music should be offered during stress tests remains to be seen, as more research is needed to test its benefits. However, authors believe music could help patients increase their physical activity and improve their heart health.
"Our findings reinforce the idea that upbeat music has a synergistic effect in terms of making you want to exercise longer and stick with a daily exercise routine," said Shami. "When doctors are recommending exercise, they might suggest listening to music too."
Current guidelines recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week to promote better health. Most Americans fall short of these guidelines, increasing their risk for heart disease and other serious conditions.
"At least on a small scale, this study provides some evidence that music may help serve as an extra tool to help motivate someone to exercise more, which is critical to heart health," Shami said.