Researchers suggest that listening to music may increase our enjoyment of exercise.
Researchers reveal that while listening to music during a workout doesn't increase focus on the task at hand, it does make exercise much more enjoyable.
Study co-author Marcelo Bigliassi, from Brunel University London in the United Kingdom, and his colleagues came to their findings by using electroencephalography (EEG) technology to monitor the brain's response to music while participants engaged in physical activity.
The researchers recently reported their results in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.
It's no secret that music has the ability to elicit emotional responses; research backs up this fact. A song can make us feel happy, sad, angry, empowered, or motivated. The latter is one reason why many of us reach for the headphones when we go for a run.
But how exactly does the brain respond to music when we exercise? It was this that Bigliassi and colleagues set out to answer.
"The brain mechanisms that underlie the psychological effects of auditory stimuli during physical activity are hitherto under-researched; particularly so in ecologically valid settings," the study authors note.
Music boosted enjoyment of walking
To address this research gap, the team used EEG to assess how music or a podcast affected the brain during exercise, compared with no auditory stimuli.
"The EEG technology facilitated measurement during an ecologically valid outdoor task, so we could finally explore the brain mechanisms that underlie the effects of music during real-life exercise situations," says Bigliassi.
A total of 24 study participants walked 400 meters on an outdoor track at a pace of their choice under one of three conditions: some subjects walked while listening to 6 minutes of the song Happy by Pharrell Williams; some participants listened to a podcast of a TED talk; and some subjects did not listen to any sound.
During the walking task, the participants' brainwaves were measured using EEG. Also, the scientists assessed how each of the three auditory conditions affected the participants' attention during the walking task, as well as how they affected their feelings of alertness and fatigue.
The researchers found that listening to music led to a 28 percent increase in enjoyment during the walking task, compared with no auditory stimuli. Enjoyment was also 13 percent higher for those who listened to music, compared with those who listened to a podcast.
These effects were associated with an increase in beta waves in the frontal and frontal-central regions of the cerebral cortex, the team reports.
"We showed that music has the potential to increase beta waves and elicit a more positive emotional state. This can be capitalized upon during other forms of exercise and render a given activity more pleasurable."
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that all adults do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week.
However, almost half of adults in the United States fail to meet these guidelines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Bigliassi says that for people who avoid exercise because they don't enjoy it, listening to some music might be one way to turn this around.