March to the Beat of Your Own Drum

Audrey's kids drumming

Audrey’s kids enjoying a drum circle. Credit: Audrey Vasauskas

My two young children absolutely love to beat on drums (or tables, chairs, any flat surface really). I recently took them to a family-oriented drum circle. They had a blast, and I was surprised at how good I felt too, both during and after the event. It turns out all that drumming—especially with others—is beneficial in a variety of ways.

Music has a positive effect on overall mood and mental health. Drumming has recently been studied for its stress- and anxiety-reducing effects. With the rise in popularity of drum circles, group drumming especially seems to be good for mental and physical health. Drumming improved mental health scores, with participants reporting less depression and lower anxiety levels.

Studies suggest that mental health and inflammation may be linked. Inflammation is how the body responds both to outside invaders, such as viruses or bacteria, and to factors that may harm the body, such as stress. White blood cells and special chemical messengers in the immune system help protect the body in a process that can be likened to “calling up the troops.” The increased protection leads to inflammation. Once additional protection is no longer needed, the anti-inflammatory chemical messengers switch off their response. The whole process is usually short-lived. However, when inflammation sticks around for too long, it can affect body and mood in a number of negative ways, which sometimes leads to depression and anxiety.

The link between physical and mental health and drumming is complex, but it seems the benefits are partially due to this effect on the immune system. Chemical messengers that increase inflammation are reduced after taking part in a group drumming activity, while anti-inflammatory messengers are increased. The creative nature and shared experience of drumming may explain these chemical changes—music has been shown to reduce nervous system activity that is associated with stress. So grab some friends, get on those drums—and be loud!


Audrey Vasausakas, PhD

Audrey A. Vasauskas, PhD, is an associate professor of physiology at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is a former volunteer editor for the I Spy Physiology blog.

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