New Research Shows Benefits of Engaging Heart Patients in Creative Musical Expression

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Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute: Researchers Show that Stress Reduction Through Recreational Music Making Impacts Biological Pathways on the DNA Level in Individuals with Coronary Heart Disease

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“A growing body of research suggests that stress may contribute substantially to the development of coronary vascular disease,” said principal investigator, Barry Bittman, MD, CEO of the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute

A new genomics study published in Medical Science Monitor indicates that Recreational Music Making (RMM), a group music-based activity that focuses on personal expression and group support, rather than mastery and performance has been shown to have significant impact on the DNA level for individuals with cardiovascular disease.

This is the first scientific publication in the world that advances knowledge of the genomic impact of RMM as a stress reduction strategy for patients facing the challenges of heart disease through biological pathway analysis.

“A growing body of research suggests that stress may contribute substantially to the development of coronary vascular disease,” said principal investigator, Barry Bittman, MD, CEO of the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute, and Meadville Medical Center’s Chief Innovations Officer. “While exercise and nutritional strategies abound for patients facing the challenges of heart disease, relatively few enjoyable, effective stress-reduction strategies are incorporated into therapeutic regimens. This unique study builds upon our prior research to suggest that creative musical expression (even in individuals who do not consider themselves musical) may play an important therapeutic role in the lives of our patients.”

As noted in the research investigation, psychosocial stress has been shown to increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. A growing body of evidence indicates that psychosocial stressors are associated with hypertension, progression of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular events, and thus contribute significantly to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. This groundbreaking study suggests that RMM may be more clinically useful for stress reduction, and may confer greater benefit to cardiovascular patients than traditional modes of relaxation.

All subjects in this two-part controlled scientific investigation had a history of ischemic heart disease, the term indicating reduced blood flow to the heart due to narrowed heart arteries that can ultimately lead to a heart attack.

The study was performed with three distinct full blood genomic assessments on each subject: at baseline, after a one hour stress-inducing exercise, and after either a one hour Yamaha Clavinova Connection® session (a group music activity performed on Yamaha Clavinova digital pianos) or a one hour quiet reading session.

Rather than limiting this study to an analysis of single genes, the team explored RMM’s impact on biological pathways. The result? RMM clearly evoked biological activity in a substantially greater number of pathways when compared to the control group (12 vs. 2 pathways). This study suggests that stress reversal through RMM is more effective than quiet reading at altering the expression of specific immune responses and control pathways.

“From a biological perspective, this study shows that an hour-long recreational music making session can cause significant molecular change, and the nature of this change may be beneficial to patients with cardiovascular disease,” noted study co-author Darrell Ellsworth, PhD, Senior Director Cardiovascular Disease Reversal Project, Windber Research Institute.

“The potential clinical implications of this study support our balanced approach for patients with, or at risk for heart disease – exercise, nutrition, adequate sleep and stress-reduction,” added study co-author Marina Vernalis, DO FACC Col (Ret), Medical Director, Integrative Cardiac Health Program, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “To my knowledge, this study is the first to provide molecular insight on the value of creative musical expression as an effective stress reduction technique in patients with heart disease. Further studies are needed to understand the scientific basis of the effectiveness of musical therapeutic interventions.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year—1 in every 4 deaths—making it the leading cause of death for both men and women.

“Our findings, while preliminary, have serious implications on many levels,” added Bittman. “With coronary heart disease accounting for more than $100 billion in annual healthcare costs, we recognize the benefits of engaging patients in the active pursuit of their own health and well-being through a rational selection of enjoyable effective therapeutic choices such as creative musical expression.”

For more information about the RMM study, please visit Medical Science Monitor at (


About Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute (YMWI)
The Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute, Inc. (YMWI) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a unique purpose—to scientifically explore and share the benefits of creative musical expression as an effective wellness strategy. Based upon a solid foundation of published scientific studies, YMWI is committed to reestablishing active music participation as a healthy lifestyle strategy. YMWI's ultimate goal is to enable individuals of all ages, regardless of prior experience, to discover the joy and personal benefits of playing a musical instrument.

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Peter Giles
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