According to new research, listening to fast music when exercising keeps the heart rate up and the fatigue to a minimum.
For many of us, music has remarkable properties. It can leave us wistful one moment and then charge us with energy the next.
Many people find that music also makes exercise more enjoyable, and now a study has revealed that music with higher tempos can deliver two distinct benefits.
Listening to up-tempo music during exercise maximizes its health benefits by increasing the heart rate and reducing the sense of effort.
Music is the universal language, as the adage goes.
While experiential and cultural factors affect our musical preferences, certain basic musical attributes appear to elicit similar responses in people everywhere.
The most essential of these are rhythm, tempo, melody, and harmony, with the effects of lyrics and genre not being universal.
The new study in Frontiers in Psychology looks specifically at the influence of higher tempos, meaning faster music.
In particular, the researchers note that “the relationship between the tempo of music and perception of effort during different metabolic demands is still unclear.”
The researchers recruited 19 volunteer female participants ranging in age from 24 to 31 years.
All of them regularly engaged in physical activity between three and five times a week, and a significant percentage worked in physical fitness. Each individual had undergone at least 1 year of fitness training.
The researchers divided the exercise tasks into two types: endurance exercise, such as treadmill work, and high intensity training, such as weightlifting.
To establish a baseline for each participant, the researchers calculated mass and body mass index (BMI). They also noted the participants’ degree of training experience (endurance, high intensity training, or both) and their maximal heart rate.
The participants completed two different exercise sessions, which took place on different days. One session involved endurance, and the other focused on high intensity training.
During each session, the participants performed a routine four times. Each time, the researchers used a different music condition. Three of these conditions used pop music, while the fourth included no music.
The pop songs that the participants heard were at three different tempos:
- low: 90–110 beats per minute (bpm)
- medium: 130–150 bpm
- high: 170–190 bpm
The researchers randomly shuffled the order of the music conditions to achieve a balanced representation.
In the endurance session, the individuals walked on a treadmill at 6.5 kilometers per hour (km/h) for 10 minutes to reach a steady exertion state.
The experimenters recorded the participants’ heart rate during the exercise, and at the end of the test, they calculated and recorded the average and peak heart rate.
Each participant also reported their perceived level of fatigue.
In the high intensity session, each volunteer performed a one repetition maximum test on a leg press machine.
Beginning with a body weight lift, the load increased until the individual could no longer perform 10 repetitions. At this point, the researchers noted the maximum load.
Again, the participants described their level of fatigue.
The beneficial effect of higher tempo music was most pronounced when the participants were engaging in endurance exercise.
As author Luca P. Ardigò of the University of Verona in Italy says, “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.”
“This means that the exercise seemed like less effort, but it was more beneficial in terms of enhancing physical fitness.”
– Luca P. Ardigò
The implication of the study’s results is that for runners, walkers, and cyclists, music at high tempos can make exercise both easier and more effective.
The authors cite clues from previous research that may explain why music has this effect.
They note that “repeated movements seem to be related to the phases between pulse music beats, stimulating a feedback/forward loop” and that rhythm may even result in improved execution of movements.
They also note research indicating that “music regulates processes in the autonomic nervous system and can be used to regulate the cardiovascular system with regard to both [heart rate] and blood pressure.”
The authors point out that their study does have some limitations. The main one of these is the narrowness of the cohort’s profile — all of the participants were physically trained female adults.
Future research should ideally include other populations, including males, untrained individuals, older people, and adolescents. Also, of course, tempo is just one musical attribute.
“In the current study,” says Ardigò, “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.”