How Listening to Music Affects Your Workout (According to Science)

Nothing beats that feeling of being in the zone listening to your favorite workout playlist. It gives you a boost to go that extra mile, do another rep, and push yourself to the limit. But what is it about music that motivates us during exercise? Is there any science behind it?

According to recent research, there are a few reasons why music and physical activity make such a great team. After looking at 140 studies, scientists found listening to music during exercise enhances positive feelings and boosts oxygen consumption, which results in an effective and enjoyable experience.

Music Is a Natural Painkiller 

While we know physical activity triggers the release of feel-good hormones, when you pair it with music it intensifies the effect. As it turns out, listening to tunes is scientifically-proven to reduce pain.

In one of the reviewed studies, scientists examined pre-operative patients. Prior to surgery, these patients were asked to either listen to music or take drugs to help relieve anxiety. Researchers kept track of patient’s reports of their own anxiety, along with their cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

Results indicated that those who listened to music experienced less anxiety and lower cortisol compared to those who took drugs. “The promise here is that music is arguably less expensive than drugs, and it’s easier on the body and it doesn’t have side effects,” explains Dr. Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist and author of This is Your Brain on Music.

Music and Exercise Performance

Not only does music act as a painkiller, but it is also a performance enhancer.

“The brain’s neurons can even synchronize with the tempo of the music, said Dr. Levitin. “Depending on the tempo, this synchronization can help you to perform repetitive motions, such as running, more quickly.”

In another study, researchers found “duration of exercise increased significantly when music was played” and “music may change how one interprets or responds to the sensation of high exertion.”

In other words, when you hear the music you probably won’t realize how hard you’re working. You’re more focused on the beat and less on the amount of energy you’re using.

Are Certain Types of Music Better than Others?

Yes, but it depends on what your goal is. For example, if you’re going for a 5-mile run, you’ll want to listen to songs with slower tempo music. This will enable you to maintain a slower heart rate and increase the length of time you can run. On the flip side, if you’re doing a shorter, more intensive type of exercise, faster music will keep your heart rate up. When it comes to staying energized, researchers found faster-paced music to be the most effective overall.

“A suitably motivational playlist can help to ‘color’ the symptoms of exercise-related fatigue, like breathlessness and a beating heart, in such a way that they are interpreted in a more positive manner,” says Sports Psychologist, Dr. Costas Karageorghis. “This means that at the point when your body is shouting stop, the music has the power to lift your mood and beckon you on.”

Are you ready to get the most out of your exercise experience? Turn up the beat! 

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