One day at the gym, my Bluetooth headphones died mid-cardio and I was left to finish my workout with heavy breathing and feet hitting treadmills as my only soundtrack. Without music to occupy my mind, there was nothing to focus on except my own exhaustion. I barely finished the remaining half of my workout without losing my sanity.
This unspoken bond between music and exercise isn’t exactly novel. Finding someone in the gym without a pair of headphones on is like a challenge straight out of National Treasure. You feel like an outsider without some sort of device to listen to, the exact reason I left my dead headphones in my ears for the last twenty minutes of running.
It may seem like simply a personal choice, yet there is actually psychological research behind music’s benefit in exercise. Psychology Today reported that listening to music during exercise can “delay fatigue,” “increase physical capacity, improve energy efficiency, and influence mood.” It distracts us from the strain of physical exertion and boosts our temperament towards the workout. Since exercise is especially dependent on the will to push oneself, any opportunity to increase positive feelings is one to leap at.
Nothing is quite as satisfying as when the movement of your feet aligns exactly with the beat of the song you are listening to. Each rhythmic stride feels like an accomplishment. As one with the music, mind and body start to move as one. Checking the beats per minute (BPM) of the music you listen to is an easy way to up your running speed and endurance. Challenge yourself to match the beat of the music, gradually picking faster tracks.
Long runs or workouts are the most suitable to musical accompaniment as you can cater a whole playlist to the length of the activity, but tunes work in short spurts too. A study conducted by the University of British Columbia detailed in a New York Times article had a group of volunteers take part in a high-intensity interval workout, one session with a playlist of their choice and one session without. Results from questionnaires filled out after both sessions proved that listening to music increased participant’s positive attitudes towards the exercise significantly. A mood booster in and outside of the gym, music can make even the most grueling workouts palatable.
While most frequently used to ramp up a workout, music can equally help facilitate a cool down and relaxation. Take yoga for instance. Downward dog doesn’t seem so feasible when accompanied by KISS’ “I Wanna Rock N Roll All Night.” Fast paced beats conflict with the peaceful movements of a flow. But with instrumental music — similar to what one might hear in a day spa — the mind can focus on breath and balance.
Recently, podcasts and audiobooks have been added to the workout auditory repertoire. Listening to a story or news report can demand more mental focus than just letting music play in the background. As discussed in an article by Health Fitness Revolution, hearing people talk about life experiences can be both relatable and inspirational. Podcasts are also notably longer, so they don’t require you to change songs throughout the exercise to fit your mood.
Stimulating the mind while engaging the body leads to an all-encompassing experience. Energy is they key to physical activity, and nowhere is energy more palpable than in music. Music has the power to influence our feelings, making any audio a great addition to exercise.