Music has an impact on fitness and performance, and is a useful therapeutic tool. Our new health expert explains.
Overture. Beethoven, The Beatles, Palestrina, Led Zeppelin, Morten Lauridsen, Pearl Jam, Bach, Rush(!), Mendelssohn, some cool hip-hop artist that I will not pretend I know, Enya—the continuum of musical artists and genres are vast and diverse. Depending on context and the individual’s mood, music has a way of tugging on his or her heartstrings. Music is a gatekeeper into our mind and soul, which becomes expressed physically through emotion or action. Music can profoundly affect us in many ways, whether that is comfort after a messy break-up or to provide a quick pump before a sporting competition. Music, as a therapeutic tool, can positively and negatively impact our mood and behavior.
Subsequently, as it relates to exercising performance, the style, rhythm, and tempo of a song can affect our intensity level. Music, health, and fitness go together like a C-major chord, so hands in playing position, head up, take a deep breath, and start on the count of four…
Verse I. Music is well recognized for its physical, cognitive, and spiritual connection. After all, that is the essence behind music therapy. There have been many times in my career as a Nurse Practitioner where the use of music as a therapeutic modality has improved a patient’s mood or cognitive status. Sometimes music can trigger a final passing memory the patient experiences shortly before taking his or her last breathe, or an Alzheimer’s dementia patient to reminisce about a fond memory from 50 years ago. Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, patients’ abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives, providing an outlet for expression of feelings. From a physical rehabilitation standpoint, research has shown music to be quite effective in facilitating movement by encouraging patients to be engaged in their treatment plan. Music is powerful any way you listen to it.
On a personal perspective of music and its therapeutic effects, my mother suffered from a hemorrhagic stroke in 2014. She has no significant past medical history, takes no medications other than fish oil and a multivitamin, is a nonsmoker, maintains a healthy weight, is a cautious eater, and is extremely active. Clearly she had minimal risk factors other than her age. The first moment I witnessed her, after her craniotomy, everything was blur. I am sure she could say the same.
Despite being heavily sedated, she could squeeze my hand in response to simple commands. I asked her how comfortable she was. She squeezed my hand once or twice respectively to answer my question. Understandably so, she was not comfortable; she was scared in fact. Trying to maintain my composure, all I could think about was to play music to help her relax. I pulled out my iPhone and ironically the first song on shuffle was “In My Life” by The Beatles, the song my mother and I danced to at my wedding. I played the song, and her handgrip softened. Her squeezing became less frequent. For that remaining time we spent together in the ICU, we held hands and she was relaxed. She was comfortable, and so was I.
Verse II. Music obviously can have a positive impact on cognition and mood, but how does it affect exercise performance and behavior? The use of music in exercise training has attracted considerable interest from researchers in recent years, and it has long been considered effective for enhancing the exercise experience. Researchers have proposed four factors contribute to the motivational qualities of a piece of music: 1) rhythm/tempo response; 2) musicality; 3) sociocultural impact; and 4) personal association. Considering these four factors when creating your ideal playlist, have you noticed changes in your mood or performance? As for myself, I am boring because I prefer to exercise with no music, or distractions I should say. My wife could tell me the house is burning down and I would not acknowledge what she said. I am focused—eyes on the prize.
Chorus. Out of the four factors discussed, tempo is considered to be the most significant determinant of musical response. The listener’s physiological arousal and the context in which the music is heard may affect the tempo preference. This means that as physiological arousal increases, such as during exercise, one should, accordingly, prefer higher tempi. This observed phenomenon is called synchronization. The implication during physical activity is there will be stronger preferences for fast tempo music, owing to increases in physiological arousal.
The choice of music tempo has also been shown to impact aspects of exercise behavior, most notably initiation and adherence of a program. Given that the arousal potential of stimuli determines preference and individuals often require a moderate increase in arousal to initiate physical activity, it follows logically that listening to music of a preferred tempo prior to exercise will assist participants in attaining an optimal mindset. Furthermore, if such music content also contains lyrical affirmations pertaining to motivation aspects, it will have an even more potent effect. Music that induces positive affect and mental imagery and promotes enjoyment is likely to increase levels of adherence.
Verse III. That’s enough about pre- and intra-workout, so what about post-workout? Can music really have an impact? One study revealed motivational qualities of music used during exercise provided a sense of comfort to participants post-workout; it created a shared experience within the gym setting. Thus, this exemplified the building blocks of intrinsic motivation, which leads to increased levels of enjoyment and adherence. Music functioned as a conditioned stimulus within an exercise or gym setting, which became amplified over time owing to a gradual reinforcement process. It is even possible that music may influence individuals on a cognitive level, leading them to evaluate themselves more favorably and their own ability to meet their health/fitness goals. (Go to coda). Music is inspiring and motivating. It influences our mood, cognition, and health/fitness goals by making it more enjoyable and enables us to increase our intensity, ultimately improving long-term performance. Whether you are an individual just starting your health journey, or fitness professional, we are motivated by positive results, and playing music while exercising can assist in reaching that outcome. Various personal characteristics influence the response to music during exercise. Hence, personality, sociocultural relationships, and attitude towards exercise should all be considered when selecting a music playlist to accompany exercise. The beauty of music is its diversity, and not one tune will resonant identically with someone else. Encouraging exercisers of any level to create and listen to their own music playlist may be one of the most critical aspects of keeping individuals motivated towards long-term health sustainability. Create your own personal soundtrack that builds you up, that defines you, and something that empowers you.