Do you listen to music when you exercise? Many people do but from my observations in gyms over the years, many don’t. I didn’t use to, and put up with the generic gym tunes played on repeat.
Perhaps some don’t want to but if I arrive at the gym without my headphones, the prospect of exercising without music makes me want to go home and get them. That would seem proof enough of the value music provides to us in exercise.
So does music help with exercise? Below I’ve listed some of the greatest benefits music has when listened to before, during and after exercising. Some may surprise you as they did me, and if you’ve never listened to your own music when exercising then I recommend you read on.
Music Makes You Move
Music triggers activity in the amygdala, one of the centers of the brain linked to the feeling of emotion. It also instructs the brain to release dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter associated with pleasure.
This explains why music makes us happy, to the extent that if we like it enough we can’t resist nodding our heads, tapping our feet and moving our bodies to it.
These powerful properties can be used to good effect to get us active enough to workout at home or get to the gym if we need a bit of encouragement, so it’s probably worth pressing play before you even start to exercise.
It’s How Music Makes You Feel
As mentioned, music makes us feel good and triggers the release of dopamine within the brain, in fact it can result in the brain being flooded with it which is a reaction that occurs when we experience pleasure and this can rapidly improve our mood.
Dopamine is a type of brain chemical called a neurotransmitter. It’s known as ‘the feel good hormone’ and is also a precursor for adrenalin. It’s believed it’s primary function is to help ensure our survival, therefore rewarding us with the feeling of pleasure for things that promote life such as eating or having sex when we participate in those activities.
Being in a good mood from listening to music when exercising is only going to benefit your fitness regimen, helping your mind to associate that feeling with keeping fit and healthy and allowing you to enjoy even the hardest workouts.
Workout Harder Without Noticing
Music can significantly enhance your workouts by helping to distract you from tiredness and the physical strain of exercising.
The distraction music provides can help take our focus away from the stress and strains of a workout as we focus on it rather than physical exertion. The more engaged we are in the music, the less difficult the physical activity can appear to be.
This effect can add further benefit by allowing us to push the limits of our physical capabilities without noticing the exertion so much. For many of us the physical effort of exercise is part of the attraction of doing it, as is continuing to better ourselves to become fitter, stronger and faster.
As already mentioned in the previous points, music influences the way we behave and move and how it makes us feel, which instructs our brain to release powerful mood enhancing chemicals.
Those influences combine to create a powerful and distracting stimulus. Exercising to highly emotive music will certainly assist you in overcoming fatigue and furthering your physical boundaries.
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Music Aids Workout Recovery
Ever listen to relaxing music after exercising? 20 to 30 minutes of slow music after a workout can produce bodily changes to help you recover more quickly.
When we exercise, our bodies produce a steroid hormone called cortisol in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration and the body continues to do this post-workout to aid recovery and get glucose to the brain and increase anti-inflammatory activity in the muscles.
Elevated cortisol levels for too long after exercise can be detrimental to recovery though. Although a natural and essential part of the recovery process, the quicker it’s over after cooling down the better your body recovers. Listening to slow and relaxing music in the first 30 minutes after exercise can help lower cortisol levels a lot quicker.
Music Improves Coordination
Music won’t just relieve exercise boredom as we now know, it can increase your stamina and put you in a better mood and when synchronised with your particular exercise, is shown to have positive physical and psychological effects.
Studies have shown that when listened to, fast-paced music can help improve a persons athletic performance and coordination in low to moderate level exercise. This can be by increase of distance traveled, pace, or repetitions completed and seemingly without becoming more tired.
Synchronising our pace with music feels good and if the tempo is right, can feel easy. This allows our body to perform more efficiently and at an increased work rate for longer.
Studies have shown for better performance in cycling the optimum music tempo to listen to is between 125 and 140 beats per minute (bpm) and for improved treadmill results, music between 123 and 131 bpm is best.
A reason why different forms of exercise have different ideal music tempos is related to our ability to keep time with the beat when performing a particular exercise, and synchronise our strides or pedaling to this. Our pace naturally differs between running and cycling, therefore different tempos are better suited to each.
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Improve Running Cadence And Injury Avoidance
Following on from the previous advantage music has, in much the same way it can improve your running cadence. Also known as stride rate, cadence is the number of steps you take during a given period, and is measured per minute (SPM/Stride Per Minute).
Researchers have discovered that a small increase in stride rate resulted in significantly less impact on the hip and knee joints in runners which delivers a huge benefit in terms of injury avoidance. This can be achieved in an enjoyable and fairly accurate way using music of optimal bpm to listen to whilst running.
As we know, the ideal bpm for running on a treadmill is between 123 and 131. You may already have songs you prefer to listen to while running and it’s likely your playing device will also be able to tell you the bpm for those songs.The chances are, those songs will be within this range or close to it.
Search for more songs with the same or similar bpm’s and create a playlist designed for an entire run. You could start with slower bpm’s and increase them towards the middle before bringing them back down again at the end.
Several sites such as JogTunes, iTunes and Spotify allow users to search for music by bpm and compile playlists too.
There is also the Amazon Music Unlimited service that gives you unlimited access to over 50 Million Songs and begins with a Free 30 Day Trial at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk so what are you waiting for? That has to be worth a try!
I hope this was of some benefit to you, especially if you’ve never made a point of listening to music when you exercise. It’s certainly reinforced my need of music when working out and I absolutely recommend you start taking advantage of it.
I will end with one final and decisive conclusion;
A 2010 study led by sport psychologist C.I. Karageorghis simply states that music can improve athletic performance in people in two ways by either delaying fatigue or increasing work capacity. According to this study, the effects of music lead to “higher than expected levels of endurance, power, productivity, or strength”.