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The Positive Effects of Music on Exercise

Updated on June 19, 2019

The interplay of exercise and music has been discussed often in various forums. There are people who believe that music and exercise can’t go together because music is likely to cause distraction during the exercise. But, conversely, it has been found that listening to music while exercising has a positive impact, creating an increase in motivation and performance.

Listening to music while exercising doesn't just relieve boredom but it can help improve the quality of the workout by increasing the stamina and creating a better mood.

In particular, music that is synchronized with the exercise has been shown to have physical and psychological effects. For example, when a song has a strong, steady beat, one can pedal or run to the beat of that music, which tends to feel satisfying and may inspire to exercise more.

Researchers have found that the power of music has definite limits. While music can hamper physiological feedback signals at moderate levels of intensity, it is markedly less effective at high intensity levels. One possible explanation is that at high levels of intensity the body’s physical feedback dominates the nervous system.

In addition, the music seems to be of greater benefit to less-trained exercisers because trained or competitive athletes tend to work at higher levels of intensity. It might be because untrained exercisers are motivated by the positive feelings aroused by music. In contrast, trained athletes are more motivated by the desire to perform well and to focus on the specifics of training.

Choosing the correct tempo of music for an exercise -

The tempo of the music is the most important factor that affects exercise intensity. It is ideal to start your warm-up with slower rhythms having a frequency of 120 to 126 BPM (beats per minute) and gradually increase the speed according to the type of exercise you will be doing. Similarly, perform the cool-down with rhythms with a frequency of 120 to 126 BPM.

For weight lifting and general cardio, choose music tempo that has intensity from 128 to 135 BPM. However, when running on a treadmill most people seem to favor music around 160 BPM. The most recent research suggests that a ceiling effect occurs at around 145 BPM. Anything higher does not seem to contribute much additional motivation.

Some psychologists have suggested that people have an innate preference for rhythms having a frequency of 120 BPM.

For relaxation after a session of exercise, choose music that is less than 100 BPM.

Benefits of Music during Exercise –

There are specific benefits of playing music while exercising, which have been enumerated below:

  • Increases exercise intensity - According to exercise scientists, music is like a legal drug for athletes. Music makes exercise more enjoyable. It can reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15 percent. ACE (American Council on Exercise) researchers have found that music can possibly influence exercise performance by 1) the tendency to move in time with synchronous sounds; 2) the tendency to increase arousal e.g., the desire to move rather than to sit; and 3) the tendency to distract the exerciser from discomfort that might be related to exercise.

  • Reduces pain – It may distract you from normal aches or pains during exercise. Therefore, you’re more likely to push through and complete your workout. But music isn't a substitute for medication to manage chronic pain.

  • Improves motor skills – Music improves the acquisition of motor skills such as coordination and balance. This is probably due to the fact that music reproduces certain bodily rhythms. Though exercise improves motor skills itself, playing music along with will further potentiate the effect.

  • Induces positive emotions – Music can improve the focus of our attention to the workouts. This is caused by music’s ability to trigger positive emotions and to decrease the perception of negative emotions such as depression, anger and tension. However, we should keep in mind that this is true only for workouts of low and medium intensity.

  • Stops chats – The gym is a great place to meet new and like-minded people. So people love to chat with each other. When you’re listening to the music, you don’t run the risk of them trying to talk with you. However, wearing headphones is a universal sign that you don’t want to be disturbed and can, therefore, ward off potential people that might distract you with their chats.

The Bottom Line –

In the last 10 years, the body of research on workout music has swelled considerably, trying to understand how music changes the body and mind during physical exercise. Researchers have found that music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. When listening to music, people run farther, bike longer and swim faster than usual often without realizing it.

Because of its positive effects on exercise, the experts on exercise music consider it as a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.


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