We all know how good it can feel to choose the perfect playlist for a long run or a tough gym session. The right tune can make you feel happy, excited, entranced or strong. Music is an incredibly dynamic stimulus that involves multiple regions of the brain, including those that affect emotion, cognition, sensation and movement. When you look at the science, it’s not hard to see how music can transform your mood, day and workout! Let’s get into it.
Keeps Your Brain Engaged
According to Costas Karageorghis, the author of the book, “Applying Music in Exercise”, the right music can stimulate the brain and make the listening happier, have better muscle control, and build muscle memory.
Music is “an ideal stimuli because it reaches [parts of the brain] that can’t easily be reached.” When music is played, the areas responsible for emotion and athletic performance in the brain activate.
The motor cortex is one of the many areas stimulated through music. It regulates the motor function and “helps determine how straight we throw a football or how well we coordinate our limbs when running, and allows us to fall into our own “rhythm” as we work.”
This means that music provides the soundtrack for our movements and helps keep everything in sync.
Helps With Endurance
Playing music while working out can improve your endurance by 15 percent, which is significant. That means longer runs, more reps, or more minutes in the gym every session.
A small study conducted on men and women found that music helped the participants endure the physical task for longer. This makes sense considering how transportive music can be. If you get lost in the rhythm and beat of a good song, you might forget how physically challenging your exercise is for a few reps. Alternatively, the powerful music might give you the emotional and physical boost you need to power through a final set and beat your PR!
Another study looked at young women and the effect of music on endurance exercise. The study concluded that music had beneficial effects, and might also be “considered an important tool to stimulate people engaging in low-intensity physical exercise.” So don’t forget your earphones next time you’re getting some physical activity in, even if it’s a gentle walk around the neighborhood.
Reduces Pain & Discomfort
You’ve probably heard of the runner’s high, where the brain releases feel-good endorphins or changes its catecholamine levels during an intense exercise session. Music prompts the brain to produce these same compounds! Music can also reduce your perception of pain by around 10 percent, which means you can go for that much longer before needing a rest.
As it turns out, music has been shown to help relieve a wide range of pains and discomforts, and it benefits people of all ages. Many of the pathways the brain uses to process music are the same as the ones that process pain. So if the brain is focused on a melody it enjoys, there won’t be much room left to relay the pain messages coming from elsewhere in the body. A good song can also help you relax and feel less anxious or uncomfortable for better recovery!
Gets You Flowing in the Zone
Costas Karageorghis considered music “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.” Athletes, particularly runners, know how important music can be to finishing a race or getting through a tough session.
A good song can put your body into “auto-pilot” and let your muscle memory take over without very much conscious effort. This is also described as being “in the zone” and is one of the many positive emotions individuals may feel when in the middle of a good workout. Getting lost in the music while challenging yourself physically (and succeeding) is a feeling like no other.
Athletes have used music to help them visualize their success with mental imagery, but music isn’t just for during a workout. Many athletes put music on before a race or game to help them focus and mentally prepare for competition.
The emotions music evokes can also help your physical performance and help you enjoy your activity more. After all, things are much easier when you take pleasure in doing them.
Upbeat music with repetitive and easy-to-follow tempo is ideal for high-intensity exercise.
Binaural beats, which are two tones played in separate ears, are particularly beneficial for getting in the zone, “promote emotional health”, and create brainwaves similar to those experienced during meditation.
Turn It Up!
If you usually spend your workouts huffing and puffing in silence, switch on some tunes next time and see how it benefits your performance. Spotify is full of playlists with specific beats per minute (BPM) and can help sync your movements to the beat of a song. A high BPM means a faster tempo and a more intense workout, hopefully!
Have fun exploring and expanding with the power of music!