Listening to upbeat music while you exercise might improve your physical performance, a small new study has found.
When women who were training heard pop songs with over 170 beats per minute, scientists say they began to put in more effort, especially during endurance activities, such as brisk walking, running or cycling.
Meanwhile, music during short-burst activities, like weight-lifting and interval training, brought less of a performance boost, although it did seem to bring a bit of a benefit.
“We found that listening to high-tempo music while exercising resulted in the highest heart rate and lowest perceived exertion compared with not listening to music,” says physiologist Luca Ardigò of the University of Verona in Italy.
“This means that the exercise seemed like less effort, but it was more beneficial in terms of enhancing physical fitness.”
It’s important to note here that the study sample used by the researchers is quite small, including only 19 physically fit participants, all of whom were women. Nevertheless, the initial results join a growing body of research investigating the impact of music on physical performance.
While the topic has fascinated psychologists and neuroscientists for decades, the evidence we have currently is still quite mixed.
Some research suggests that music reduces our perceived exertion, increasing our enjoyment and enhancing performance. By either delaying fatigue or increasing work capacity, in certain cases, music is even said to work as a type of ‘legal performance-enhancing drug’.
But figuring out exactly what type of music is beneficial in which scenario is more difficult than it seems. There are so many subtle aspects and features to music, not to mention the complexities of human physiology.
A study last year found that compared to silence, songs above 130 beats per minute (bpm) improved high-intensity cycling by improving a person’s perceived exertion, prolonging the exercise, and boosting heart rates and breathing rates.
Another study in 2011 found people’s preference for faster tempo music increased with exercise intensity. There are still so many details to tease out, and the new study has aimed to untangle these results under different training scenarios.
During endurance or high-intensity training, the authors assessed 19 active women as they listened to pop music with either a low tempo (90 to 110 bpm), medium tempo (130 – 150 bpm), or high tempo (170 – 190 bpm). Each participant’s heartbeat and perceived exertion were measured throughout.
In the end, the authors found high-intensity exercise was more sensitive to the benefits of music. When listening to upbeat songs, exercise seemed to require less effort, the authors explain, so this is probably why the participants ended up working harder.
“Consequently,” the authors write, “music may be considered an important tool to stimulate people engaging in low-intensity physical exercise.”
Of course, before we can draw general conclusions, such results would need to be replicated amongst a much larger and more diverse cohort – one that includes male participants, untrained individuals, and those from an older generation.
Once again, however, high-tempo music seems to hold some benefits when it comes to physical exertion.
“In the current study, we investigated the effect of music tempo in exercise, but in the future we would also like to study the effects of other music features such as genre, melody, or lyrics, on endurance and high intensity exercise,” says Ardigò.
The study was published in Frontiers of Psychology.