It's been a very long day and you’re driving home from work. How could you possibly find the energy to hit the gym? Try the radio or your MP3 player.
Ever noticed how hearing your favourite tune can totally re-energize you? How your legs find that extra push when your favourite running song comes up on your iPod? I know that Kenny Loggins and the Beastie Boys have saved me on more than one occasion!
The power of music on the mind and the body is truly impressive. Scientists have studied this effect and some of the results may surprise you:
In one study, scientists compared people who were exercising either while listening to music or while wearing earplugs. The people wearing earplugs were much more uncomfortable, presumably because they had nothing to focus on besides their body.
To look at the effect of music tempo on exercise, scientists took the same song and either sped it up or slowed it down. They played each version for students while they exercised. Students reported a greater enjoyment and greater effort when the music was faster. Similarly, subjects riding a bike also unconsciously sped up when listening to upbeat music. The theory is that by focusing on sounds and/or sights, you’re less likely to notice the distress signals that your muscles are sending to your brain.
Men and women were asked to grab a stick as tightly as they could. Prior to doing this, they either listened to up-beat music, slow music or white noise. The group that listened to up-beat music were able to grab onto the stick much more tightly.
Studies have looked at the benefits of having music playing during physical therapy sessions. Patients that listened to music had lower levels of perceived pain and anxiety. They were also able to exercise for longer.
Not all songs will have the same effect on everyone. Cultural differences and personal preference can affect whether a particular song has a positive impact on your workout. I did my own little “experiment” on this topic. I asked a group of 20 runners to provide their “Top 3” running songs, expecting to see some key songs repeated throughout the group. Surprisingly, only three songs were identified by more than one person. Although not a properly controlled study, this certainly speaks volumes about the importance of personal preference.
Studies examining the effects of TV on your workout suggest that you might be better off with the MP3 player. It seems that the effort involved in paying attention to a television program combined with keeping your head in the proper viewing angle can create too much of a distraction. This sensory overload can actually slow you down and make your workout less intense.
If you’re going to listen to music while you exercise, remember: Safety First. A recent study has shown that pedestrian deaths caused by headphones have tripled in the past six years. If you’re going to listen to music while biking, running or exercising, remain aware of your surroundings. I always tell my runners to only wear one headphone. That way you can hear approaching cars or shouts to look out.