Traffic stress is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac complications, such as heart attack, studies published in recent years. One of the solutions to mitigate this danger may be to choose the track list you hear behind the wheel.
A study by researchers at Paulista State University (UNEP) in Marilia found that driving instrumental music listening relieves stress in the heart.
The results of a research supported by HighSpace were published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
Researchers from the University of Sоo Paulo (UCP), Oxford University, England, and the University of Parma, Italy participated in the work.
"We have found that listening to music while driving reduces the stress in the hearts of drivers participating in our experiment," Fespesp Vitor Engrácia Valenti, a professor at Unesp de Marília and project co-ordinator, told FAPESP.
Researchers looked at the effects of music on the heart stress of five healthy women aged 18 to 23 who were considered occasional drivers – driving one to two times a week – and who recently had their driver's license removed.
"We chose to rate unusual drivers because those who drive often and longer are better adapted to stressful traffic situations," Valenti explained.
The volunteers were evaluated over two days, in different situations and randomly. The first day, they drove 20 minutes to a three-kilometer drive to a busy area in the city of Marilia, northwest of Sоo Paulo. The test was conducted at peak hours – between 5:30 pm and 6:30 pm – without listening to music.
The other day they pulled off the trip, which was about the same length and time of day, listening to instrumental music with a stereo attached to the car, because headphone wear is classified as a traffic disorder.
"To increase the stress level, they drove a car that was not theirs, because if everyone drove their own car, the stress level would decrease," Valenti said.
In order to assess the level of stress in the participants' hearts, the variability of heart rate – the oscillations in the time interval between two successive heart beats – was analyzed using a heart rate monitor.
The variability of the heart rhythm is influenced by the activity of the sympathetic nervous system – which speeds the heartbeat – and the parasympathetic – which causes the heartbeat to slow down.
"Increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system reduces the variability of the heart rhythm and increases the variability of the parasympathetic system," Valenti explained.
The results of the analysis showed a decrease in the variability of the volunteer heart rate while driving without listening to music, indicating a decrease in activity of the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system and activation of the sympathetic system.
On the contrary, there has been an increase in the variability of the drivers' heart rhythm as they listen to music as a result of increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system as well as a decrease in the sympathetic system.
"Listening to music has reduced the slight overload of stress that volunteers have been subjected to while riding," said Valenti.
The study was attended only by women to control the effects of sex hormones, the researcher explained.
"If we mix women and men and if there was a significant difference between this first and second groups, the result could raise doubts that the differences would be related to the impact of the female sex hormone," Valenti said.
According to the researcher's estimation, the results of the study may contribute to the creation of cardiovascular preventive measures in situations of heightened stress, such as those experienced in traffic.
"Listening to music can be a precautionary measure in favor of cardiovascular health to relieve stressful situations, such as driving in peak hours," he said.
The article "The Effects of Musical Audio Stimulation on Autonomic Cardiac Rhythm Responses While Driving: A Potential Randomized Pilot Case Study" (DOI: 10.1016 / j.ctim.2019.08.006), by Myrela Alene Alves, David M. Garner, Joice AT do Amaral, Fernando R. Oliveira and Vitor E. Valenti, can be read in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.