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Why listening to music boosts fitness performance

Many of us, myself included, can’t fathom the idea of exercising without listening to a carefully curated playlist. But what is it exactly about music that motivates us to run further, cycle harder and pump more iron?

An article today in Scientific American sheds some light on the psychology of music and exercise and offers insights into what types of tunes are best suited to working out. Ferris Jabr writes:

In the last 10 years the body of research on workout music has swelled considerably, helping psychologists refine their ideas about why exercise and music are such an effective pairing for so many people as well as how music changes the body and mind during physical exertion. 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. In a 2012 review of the research, Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London, one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, wrote that one could think of music as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”

Selecting the most effective workout music is not as simple as queuing up a series of fast, high-energy songs. One should also consider the memories, emotions and associations that different songs evoke. For some people, the extent to which they identify with the singer’s emotional state and viewpoint determines how motivated they feel. And, in some cases, the rhythms of the underlying melody may not be as important as the cadence of the lyrics. In recent years some researchers and companies have experimented with new ways to motivate exercisers through their ears, such as a smartphone app that guides the listener’s escape from zombies in a postapocalyptic world and a device that selects songs based on a runner’s heart rate.

The full story is worth a read and is sure to energize you for today’s post-work run or gym session.

Previously: Study shows regular physical activity, even modest amounts, can add years to your life, Study shows short, daily jogs boost longevity and How physical activity influences health
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