From street corners to church choirs, ‘tis the season for bells that are a-ringing. Aside from being music to your ears, the sounds of these holiday chimes may also help tune up your health.
The positive effects of music have been touted for years. A study from the University of Utah Pain Research Center showed that music has the power to decrease the perception of pain in the body by essentially diverting your attention. Another study found that joyful music can contribute to cardiovascular health by causing blood vessels to expand, increasing blood flow. Other evidence points to music’s ability to lower stress, decrease anxiety and boost our mood by triggering the brain’s reward center.
But it’s not always the tunes you blast from your iPod at the gym that have the most health benefits. According to one expert, the sound of bells, as well as playing them, can ring in a host of positive effects.
Take people with arthritis. “I have talked to literally hundreds of surgeons over the years, and what we have found is that people who have arthritis in their hands or knees forget that they need to keep moving,” says Paul Rosene, Ph.D., founder of the music therapy program at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.
But playing handbells actually helps with this painful condition. That’s because handbells engage the joints in the hands and wrists, as well as the knees by standing when you play. “People think they can’t play handbells if they have arthritis, but it’s the exact opposite,” Rosene adds. “If you have arthritis, you should play.”
These small instruments can actually make us more intelligent, too, according to Rosene. The sounds that bells produce stimulate the brain. This triggers increased firing across synapses, which are the brain’s communication network.
What’s more, the simple act of hearing and playing bells synchronizes both the left and right hemispheres of the brain: the sounds stimulate the right—or creative—half, while reading the music activates the left—or cognitive—side.
And when it comes to mood, playing handbells can be the perfect pick-me-up—especially during the stress of the holidays. “The vibrations you are feeling into your wrists and elbows travel into the brain and can cause an enhanced emotion,” says Rosene. This can help clear your mind and create a sense of calm.
Need one more reason to chime in, especially if you’re, say, less than musically-inclined? “With bells, you’re immediately successful,” adds Rosene. “Other instruments can take years to learn, but here, you can learn in 15 seconds—and it sounds good.”
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