Jamming out at the gym: How music can help exercise

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Regardless of the form of exercise, many people enjoy listening to music while working out. While enjoyable in its own right, avid gym goers swear by the power of music. Many self-report that it helps improve their stamina, endurance, and overall power. Although these statements tend to be subjective by nature, there is evidence that music during exercise can have a positive effect on an individual during workouts.اضافة اعلان

How does music improve workouts?

Many TV shows and cartoons like Tom and Jerry have musical scores that are synchronized with what is occurring on screen — a technique called Mickey Mousing, named for early animated Walt Disney films. This technique seems to transcend upbringing, language, or culture, and tends to be universally understood.

The connection between music and our body has been the subject of many studies but, in 2006, Istvan Molnar-Szakacs and Katie Overy proposed the “shared affective motion experience” model.

In this model, it is suggested that we not only perceive musical sounds as auditory signals, but also as an intentional message. Through sounds, the composer is able to intentionally elicit certain responses, which can in turn be synchronized to actions. This entire process is possible by a concept known as neural mirroring.

Neural mirroring is when our body performs an action we witness someone else performing. Although not strictly applicable to music, many studies have shown that this same process can link perceptual and behavioral representations of sounds to physical manifestations.

In the case of working out, music can be used to help elicit an emotional response that then manifests physically; something that can potentially benefit exercise.

Which music is best?

Although certain benefits are generally associated with certain types of music, there is no clear answer for what music to listen to when exercising. The choice will ultimately be determined by personal preference.

Generally speaking, it is best to match the tempo of your music with the intensity of your workout. There is a phenomenon known as auditory-motor synchronization which best describes this. Auditory-motor synchronization occurs when rhythmic actions of the body are coupled with external acoustic stimuli such as metronomes or music.

A 2013 study assessed the effects of auditory-motor synchronization by using a musical intervention group and compared it to a control group that had no musical stimuli. The musical intervention group consisted of one group that listened to music and another group that only listened to a metronomic beat. In total, there were three groups studied (control, metronome, and music). When the metronome group was compared to the music group, there were no statistically significant differences in relation to time to exhaustion, cadence consistency, perceived exertion, and heart rate.

However, other studies have noted that there may be specific differences between certain music types. Generally, evidence has shown that slow-tempo music during moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise can slightly reduce heart rate, whereas fast-tempo music during low-intensity exercise can slightly increase heart rate. Additionally, auditory-motor synchronization works with music because we are able to subconsciously extract the beat from the song and set our rhythm to it.

With certain genres of music such as hip-hop, beat extraction may be difficult since it is common to interweave multiple rhythmic patterns into the music. Subjectively, the type of music can also positively or negatively affect certain aspects of your workout. For example, when listening to music while working out that is perceived to be enjoyable, blood flow overall is increased. However, listening to music that is perceived to induce anxiety can actually reduce blood flow.

When it comes to determining the ideal music to exercise to, it is important to consider your personal preference and weigh it against your desired goals. First and foremost, choose music that you enjoy and personally find beneficial. If your goal is to maximize lower-intensity workouts by increasing your heart rate, fast-tempo music is generally preferred. Likewise, if your goal is to lower your heart rate in order to improve recovery, slower tempo music may be best. Additionally, you can time your music with your workout. Many people experience a decline in in the last half or third of an exercise. Timing slow paced music in the first half of your exercise may increase your endurance. Then, when you start to get tired, switch to fast paced music in order to capitalize on certain benefits.

Benefits of music while exercising

Listening to music during exercise has many benefits, which can make it highly versatile. One of the greatest benefits, subjectively, is the joy and pleasure felt from simply listening to music.

There is a form of cognitive bias known as the peak-end rule, in which changes occur to the way we recall past events and memories. In short, we remember past experiences based on emotional peaks felt throughout the experience and at the end of the experience.

During exercise, especially for those just starting out, the experience can be grueling and has the potential of being remembered as a negative experience. By listening to music, you can help reduce those negative peaks regardless of the intensity of workout, which will likely motivate you to workout again.

Additionally, music can potentially reduce the amount of perceived exertion. Multiple studies have assessed this effect, but results are varied. In the aforementioned 2013 study, they found small to moderate reductions in perceived exertion for those in the musical intervention group compared to the control group in the early part of exercise, but at the end of exercise no significant differences were found between the groups. Nevertheless, personal experiences may vary, and some may still benefit.

In addition to the subjective benefits of music, there are also physical benefits that could potentially maximize your workouts. A 2019 meta-analysis on the effects of music in exercise reviewed 139 studies relating to the subject. As mentioned previously, listening to music while working out can increase heart rate and blood flow. In total, the improved blood flow can be as high as 26 percent, which in turn can improve oxygen utilization and reduce fatigue. These physiological effects were even found to be separate from participants’ personal preference and instead were primarily due to the inherent characteristics of the music such as tempo.

Due to the principle of auditory-motor synchronization, music can also help improve overall movement, rhythm, and cadence. For example, running along with the tempo of music can help regulate stride patterns and improve fluidity. As a result, you need less adjustments and can maintain a steady pace which can slightly reduce overall energy cost. In conjunction with the aforementioned benefits, listening to music while exercising can also improve brain chemistry. Exercise and listening to music, individually, releases natural chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These chemicals help regulate mood, reduce sensations of pain, and provide an overall feeling of pleasure. When combining exercise with music, there is a potential for these effects to be potentiated.

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