Adjutant General's Corps Regimental Association

Music for Holistic Health and Fitness

On October 1st of 2020, the U.S. Army published Field Manual (FM) 7-22 Holistic Health and Fitness. It represents a complete picture of how to train and ensure the health of Soldiers, not just physically, but emotionally, socially, psychologically, and spiritually. This doctrinal publication takes its cues from a wide breadth of knowledge from the medical and performance communities. For the first time since World War II, music is recognized as a contributor to Soldier health.

In July of 1945, the War Department published Technical Bulletin (TB) Medical 187- Music in Recondition in Armed Service Forces Convalescent and General Hospitals. This document described how nurses and doctors were to use music during the recovery process, both from physical and mental wounds of war. The techniques described formed the basis of modern music therapy, which is now a board-certified profession.

The first mention of music in FM 7-22 deals with sleep from paragraph 11-18- “Some individuals believe that they sleep better with music or a television on, that they can sleep anywhere, and the ambient noise does not bother them. Research clearly shows this is not the case.” Continued in paragraph 11-19- “Pre-sleep routines that promote winding down- such as listening to soothing music, reading, or taking a warm shower or bath- 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime tend to facilitate the transition to sleep.” There have been several studies done on the relationship between music listening and sleep. This meta-analysis showed a moderate effect for listening to music and subjective quality of sleep for insomnia patients. The challenge with much of the research in this area, is that music listening is individualistic. So called “soothing music” can refer to huge variety of different styles. This study showed a temporary memory boost for a specific task when listening to music during sleep. There isn’t conclusive evidence that music listening before or during sleep improves quality. However, if it is part of a routine already established, it is likely to be helpful. Soldiers can reach out to their peers in Army Bands on recommendations for finding music that is both enjoyable and calming for pre-sleep routines.

Music can be a companion to both pre-conditioning and recovery from physical activity. If you have ever been to a professional football game, you will often see the players wearing headphones during their on-field warmups. This is a personally selected mix that provides them a motivational boost. It is their time for individual focus on the task that lies ahead. As they get closer to game-time, the headphones are gone, and the team comes together through shared chants/movements. This builds social bonding as the team begins the game. In Lisa Gilman’s book My Music My War, Soldiers recount their use of music to get pumped-up while getting their gear ready, and then having a shared song played on a makeshift stereo inside their vehicles right before going outside the wire. During recovery, paragraph 12-49 of FM 7-22 states- “A quiet, comfortable, and dimly lit environment with calming music can assist with mental imagery, deep breathing practice, muscle relaxation, and mindfulness practice.” This spa-like atmosphere is certainly achievable in garrison, but in combat environments is unlikely to be possible. Often this type of recovery is only available after long-term stress and/or trauma, delivered by a certified practitioner. These types of recovery practices will be more effective when delivered closer to the stressful event.

The variety of ways music is processed in the brain.

Personal Development is an important part of a holistic health approach. If one’s professional life is all-consuming, it can cause undue stress and long-term complications. Engaging with music through practice, performance, and composing has several benefits for cognitive functioning and social bonding. There are tremendous resources on the internet for learning and engaging with music, however it can be overwhelming. Having a mentor will help improve the experience as the key benefit lies in the human to human interaction. Synchronization through rhythm and movement creates neurochemical boosts in the brain which make us feel closer to those with whom we play music. Army Bands can provide opportunities for all Soldiers to engage with music from jam sessions, drum circles, talent showcases, and performances. Such work is already happening with warrior care services (supported by the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Forces Military Health Initiative), but should be expanded to all those who want to participate.

The power of the mind is incredibly important to total well-being. The current professional consensus does not fully support FM 7-22 when speaking of mind-body practices in paragraph 13-29- “Some mind-body practices do not require referral for clinical or professional intervention. These practices can include art therapies such as music, visual arts, and dance.” There is strict delineation between clinical art-based therapies and the general use of the arts for holistic health. The everyday stress and rigors of being a Soldier do not require a clinical intervention, but rather mentorship from experts and support from colleagues. If a trauma-inducing event occurs and is diagnosed by a medical professional, then a clinical intervention is needed, which can be delivered by board-certified creative arts therapists. Music as medicine can be self-administered or delivered by a facilitator, whereas a music therapist can provide specific interventions aimed at improving a diagnosed condition. The American Music Therapy Association provides as excellent overview of working with military populations.

The Army has come full circle from 1945 in its application of music for health outcomes. 3,000+ musicians stand at the ready to facilitate and advise for the use of music to improve Soldier readiness. There is also an ever-expanding network of music therapists working as Department of the Army Civilians and contractors. Army Bands in collaboration with music therapists are already improving the health of the force and will continue to reach more Soldiers and Families through greater awareness of music’s health benefits.

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