Dr Tom: Music is medicine

Seeing the JPS Experience, a Flying Nun band from the 80s, at a gig recently reconnected me to old mates and my love of ...

Seeing the JPS Experience, a Flying Nun band from the 80s, at a gig recently reconnected me to old mates and my love of music - a real tonic for the soul.

Music is a medicine and good beats do wonders for your heart your brain and apparently, your muscles.

 I felt so great going to a live gig recently that  it struck me how my favourite songs make me feel so good. Turns out there is a body of research and neurological explanations to underline why great music makes us feel great. It's do with rhythm and vibration and neural connection and the chemicals that are released. 

So plenty of brain chemicals were released when with a few old mates and I rocked up to the Hollywood cinema in Avondale, Auckland recently. We were there to see the JPS Experience, a Flying Nun band from the 80s. Sadly, it was to remember one of the band members, Jim Laing, who had died of natural causes last year. The gig had a family feel with all three of Jim's daughters playing alongside his bands and other Flying Nun legends like Shayne Carter helping out.

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One of the ways to improve wellbeing is to be connected. Having spent most of the 80s at university in Christchurch and Dunedin and working as a barman and doorman at the cities' iconic pubs, I lived and breathed Flying Nun music. My vinyl collection is filled with treasures and my brain stacked with memories of seeing JPS when I was young (and had a lot more hair and a lot less waist). 

So I connected well with many of the old faces in the crowd at the Hollywood, a renovated venue perfect for live music. With the average age in the mosh pit being about 55, one  was more likely to pull a hamstring or a vocal chord than being injured by being cannonballed by someone off their chops on chemicals or tequila. The mix of your favourite songs, a familiar crew and a tribe all connected by songs of their youth was intoxicating in itself.  A week later, I can still recreate the feeling and pleasure from connecting with friends and the music just by thinking about it. Such is the power of the mind. 

Like fine wine or great cheese, the band was polished and hypnotic. The songs had aged well and did Jim Laing proud. I have been dusting off my old vinyl and downloading new tracks and getting the medical benefit of JPS while flying and driving since the concert - it's great. Music has been proven to improve mood and reduce stress. Many doctors play in bands or are involved with music as a stress release as we deal with the tragedy of the human condition on a daily basis. 

One of the first signs of clinical depression is losing interest in the things you once enjoyed,  such as listening to music. Another sign is becoming withdrawn and not socialising with friends and family. It's almost like your brain wants to be more miserable by not joining the dots of things that create pleasure. That's the power of the brain. 

As I say in my corporate talks, the mind is the software and the brain is the hardware and you can't run good software on faulty hardware. So, give your hardware a much-needed boost: dust off your old vinyl, download some tunes and get your groove on again. Even better get a bunch of old friends and make some new ones by going to see a live band. It can make you feel young again and  I'm sure it will make the band feel better to see you in the crowd. 

Dr Tom Mulholland is an Emergency Department doctor and GP with more than 25 years' experience in New Zealand. He's currently on a mission, tackling health missions around the world.

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