Monday, November 22, 2010

Performance Enhancing Music?


An Australian study on triathlon competitors shows that listening to music can improve endurance by as much as 15%.  The most profound effect is shown when the tempo of the music lines up with a runner's stride.  Energy consumption in the body was found to be 1-3% more efficient when the athlete listened a regular musical beat or synchronous music.  Additionally, music helps to lower the perception of effort, allowing athletes to ignore the pain of exercise more easily. Brain scans of subjects listening to loud, upbeat music show an increase of activity in the Reticular Activating System, an area responsible for behavioural motivation, breathing and heart rate.  The loud upbeat music effectively activates the brain and prepares it for physical activity.  Researchers suggest that using the right kind of music can not only prime professional athletes for better performance but also help casual athletes enjoy exercising more.  In this way, when used in combination with exercise, music could help contribute to overall public health.

This study is further evidence of what is easily observable at any gym.  It is not uncommon to see a line of cardio machines filled with people listening to their i-Pods.  As the study suggests, using music in conjunction with endurance based exercise is particularly effective.  Further evidence of the connection between music an exercise can be seen in the popularity of the new line of Nike shoes that contain a pedometer that wirelessly syncs to an i-Pod.  Users can set their own "power song" that helps gives them a boost of motivation when they need it.  The device also gives feedback about the progress of workouts and keeps track of progress over time.  It would be interesting to combine the findings of the Australian study with products like the Nike/i-Pod device.  Data about the rate of a runner's stride could be sent to an i-Pod, and the i-Pod could match the stride rate to the BPM of a song.  I would even be possible to alter the tempo of songs in an existing playlist to match with stride rate.  Perhaps such a device could even slowly increase or decrease the tempo of a song to adjust the intensity of a workout particularly if used in conjunction with a heart-rate monitor.  There are many possibilities for future products that combine music and exercise.  Perhaps governments like ours here in Canada should consider funding such projects to help lower healthcare costs.  If music can be used to motivate regular exercise perhaps it can also make people more healthy and save us all some money.


Lisa Tahara said...

Thanks for this post Lucas!
On the basis of what you stated in the beginning of your own reflection, it never occurred to me that there is an actual scientific explanation as to why everyone enjoys listening to music while exercising. Personally, I always used music, no matter what kind it is - whether it is upbeat or slow, simply to keep me from getting bored of a monotonous workout routine. It is really interesting to now know that the right kind of music actually has an effect on the brain in terms of 'behavioural motivation, breathing and heart rate'. I'll definitely be thinking about this the next time I edit my workout playlist tracks on my ipod. :)

Anonymous said...

It seems music is beneficial to us from any angle we approach it. Thank you for the post, Lucas. I have been doing some reading on this topic as well, and I find it interesting. You are right; everyone seems to be “plugged in” when they work out. I read somewhere that some competitive runners use iPods not solely in training, but also in competitions (but this is regarded as amateurish by some professional or semi-professional athletes, thus dissuading some from putting headphones on in competitions). It seems that music is able to enhance their endurance, it helps them disassociate, diverting the mind from the sensation of exhaustion to a much more positive state of mind. But although beneficial from this point of view, I think there is a fine line we need to draw to raise awareness that although while listening to music one can enhance their performance, electronic devices need to be used with caution. Outside of gyms, they may pose a safety risks, such as a distraction from traffic; may lead to collisions, or other serious accidents.

Grace Ha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grace Ha said...

I agree that it has to be the 'right kind of music' to help the physical exercises. I recently read the article about the study done in Brunel University by Dr. Karageorghis, which said listening to the music that is too fast or slow, or different kinds of music at once make the person feel more tired. I haven't tried if it is true; I should try listening to a very slow sad song on the treadmill, and see if it really makes me more tired!
Also, some scientists claim that the music's impact decreases dramatically when the exercise level is intense. I agree that music could be even distracting particularly for the weight liftening exercises, because often the beat goes against the working pace.