A Guest Post by Jordan Spindler
Lots of people like to listen to music while working out, whether while out jogging or at the gym. Many might do it just to have a pleasant soundtrack to their activity. But science has shown that music has a myriad of effects on the body, and many of them can help improve performance during exercise. Research is still probing the brain to find out all the effects of music, but some of the results are quite interesting.
Not only does listening to music make exercise more pleasant, but it also has a real effect on performance. Researchers have found that people can hold heavy weights longer while listening to music, and they can also sprint faster. People listening to music also have a lower oxygen intake, meaning their muscles are working a lot more efficiently.
There are several reasons for this, but the most important in synchronicity. A musical tempo sets a steady rhythm that’s easier to follow and is more efficient than the acceleration and deceleration you experience when following your own tempo. This is especially relevant in activities that require constant muscular repetition such as jogging, running or spinning. The rhythm helps your mind achieve what many athletes refer to as a state of “flow”. It’s a sense of meditation like calm where everything is working together.
Feel less, achieve more
One of the more obvious effects of music is that it provides a distraction, but it has an effect beyond that. Research conducted by the Tufts-New England Medical Center in Massachusetts found that patients recovering from surgery who listened to music reported less pain, required fewer sedatives and had lower blood pressure. The effectiveness of a fitness class is measured by how far you can push yourself, and by being able to prolong endurance, the session is more effective for toning muscle.
Not all effects are on the body: music has also been found to change a person’s perception of time. Research by the University of Cincinnati showed that when people listened to pleasant music, they were less likely to notice how much time went by (which is why you hear music when you are put on hold). It works by distracting the brain, which means it’s less likely to notice other things like the passage of time.
It’s not just any music, however. A recent study published in the journal Nature found that people will recognize music subconsciously. Researchers found that when we hear the opening of a song we dislike, our brains will remember the entirety of the song and skip ahead, subconsciously listening to it. This recollection is extremely vivid, and it has the effect of listening to the song twice, making unpleasant songs seem that much longer.
Cleveland Clinic found that there are certain melodies that can increase the relaxing effects of music. While that’s not as useful during a fitness class, the opposite holds true as well: disjointed, unmelodic music with a steady rhythm has a positive effect on performance.
Now you know the scientific explanation for listening to music while you work out.
About the guest author: After graduating from UCR with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Jordan Spindler has been writing fitness and health related articles for 8 years. When he’s not writing about fitness, he’s active in the gym pursuing his personal goals.
- The Psychology of Effective Workout Music (livescience.com)
- Let’s Get Physical: The Psychology of Effective Workout Music (scientificamerican.com)