Soft, soothing music is a usual component of a relaxation-massage session. Now researchers say blood flow and respiratory rates can synch with music, and that music could be used as a therapeutic tool for improving blood pressure, rehabilitation and more.

Music induces a continuous, dynamic—and to some extent predictable—change in the cardiovascular system,” said Luciano Bernardi, M.D., lead researcher of the study and professor of Internal Medicine at Pavia University in Pavia, Italy. “It is not only the emotion that creates the cardiovascular changes, but this study suggests that also the opposite might be possible, that cardiovascular changes may be the substrate for emotions, likely in a bi-directional way.”

The researchers found in an earlier study (Heart. 2006 Apr;92(4):445-52) that music with faster tempos resulted in increased breathing, heart rate and blood pressure, according to a university press release. When the music was paused, breathing, heart rate and blood pressure decreased, sometimes below the beginning rate. Slower music caused declines in heart rates.

In an extension of those findings, researchers recently discovered swelling crescendos appear to induce moderate arousal while decrescendos induce relaxation. In music, a crescendo is a gradual volume increase, and a decrescendo is a gradual volume decrease.

Previous studies have shown that music reduces stress, boosts athletic performance and enhances motor skills of people with neurological impairments. Bernardi noted that music more frequently is being used as a therapeutic tool for different diseases. In addition, the distracting effect of music can also prolong exercise by increasing the threshold for pain or labored breathing.

“What we are learning from the present and previous study is that alternating between fast and slow music (crescendo and decrescendo within the same music track) may be potentially more effective,” Bernardi said.