Listening to music when you hit the gym to improve your workout isn't exactly a new concept. But understanding how your favorite tunes enhance your exercise is a little less obvious.
Research consistently finds that listening to music distracts athletes from their "bodily awareness" (read: pain). And a recent study found that not just listening, but controlling and creating music in time to one's pace had an even more profound effect on perceived effort during a workout.
Here are seven very good reasons to rock out during your next gym session.
1. Music is the good kind of distraction.
While the study did suggest there's more to it than distraction, working out with music did make participants less aware of their exertion. Such a distraction can benefit athletic performance by up to 15 percent, The Guardian reported. The faster the better, according to WebMD: Upbeat tunes have more information for our brains to process, which takes your mind off of that side stitch.
2. It ups your effort.
A 2010 study found that cyclists actually worked harder when listening to faster music as compared to music at a slower tempo. But too fast is no good, either. Songs between 120 and 140 beats per minute (bpm) have the maximum effect on moderate exercisers.
3. Music puts you "in the zone".
Everyone has that go-to song that gets you "in the zone," and there's science to why it works. We associate certain songs with memories, often relating to the context in which we originally heard them, such as the first time you watched Rocky. Channeling that memory -- or even just the emotion of the singer -- boosts the motivational power of the song, and has been shown to improve physical performance.
4. A good beat can help you keep pace.
The rhythm of your workout music stimulates the motor area of the brain as to when to move, thereby aiding self-paced exercises such as running or weight-lifting. Clueing into these time signals helps us use our energy more efficiently, since keeping a steady pace is easier on our bodies than fluctuating throughout a sweat session.
5. Music can elevate your mood.
An August 2013 analysis found that people often listen to music as a way to change their mood and find self-awareness. Study participants said that listening to music allowed them to think about themselves, who they wanted to be and give them an escape from the present. No matter what happened an hour ago, you can use your tunes to help you escape negativity and power you through your workout -- and you know you'll feel great when it's over.
6. It makes you want to move.
You really can't stop the beat! Researchers found that when music possesses "high-groove" qualities, the brain gets excited and induces movement in the listener. Basically, your playlist has the ability to make you move -- no matter how much you're dreading that workout.
7. Listen to music already? Take it to the next level: Making music while you work has an important added benefit.
According to a study published earlier this month, the relationship between music and physical exertion may be more complicated than we initially thought. It isn't just listening to music that drowns out our pain and exhaustion, asserts lead researcher Tom Fritz. The process of creating and controlling music in time to one's exercise improves the experience even more.
Participants exercised on machines designed to alter the music they were listening to based on their movements, essentially allowing them to create their own soundtrack. Compared to exercisers who had no control over the music, those with "musical agency" reported feeling like they hadn't worked as hard.
We can't all work out on equipment that coordinates our movements with musical sounds, but we can harness the power of creating music when we exercise. The finding, said Fritz about his study may provide "a previously unacknowledged driving force for the development of music in humans: making music makes strenuous physical activities less exhausting."
Does music improve your workouts? Let us know in the comments below!
Also on HuffPost:
Eases Anxiety In Cancer Patients
Researchers from Drexel University found that cancer patients who either listened to music or worked with a music therapist experienced a <a href="http://news.health.com/2011/08/12/music-eases-cancer-patients-anxiety-study/" target="_hplink">reduction in anxiety</a>. The review by the Cochrane Collaboration included 1,891 people with cancer, and found that people who participated in music somehow not only had decreased anxiety, but also <a href="http://news.health.com/2011/08/12/music-eases-cancer-patients-anxiety-study/" target="_hplink">better blood pressure levels</a> and improved moods, HealthDay reported.
If you listen to your iPod every day on your way to work or break out the guitar every evening, then you'll like this finding. A doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg reveals that <a href="http://www.samfak.gu.se/Faculty+of+Social+science/News/News/News_Detail//everyday-music-listening-reduces-stress.cid1066914" target="_hplink">listening to music every day</a> lowers stress. The thesis was based on the results of two studies, which showed that people who listened to music also felt positive emotions. "But it should be pointed out that when studying emotional responses to music it is important to remember that all people do not respond in the exact same way to a piece of music and that one individual can respond differently to the same piece of music at different times, depending on both individual and situational factors," thesis author Marie Helsing said <a href="http://www.samfak.gu.se/Faculty+of+Social+science/News/News/News_Detail//everyday-music-listening-reduces-stress.cid1066914" target="_hplink">in a statement</a>. "To get the positive effects of music, you have to listen to music that you like."
Helps During Surgery
Listening to music while lying on the operating table could help to <a href="http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1929994,00.html" target="_hplink">lower stress</a>, <em>TIME</em> reported. The research, conducted by Cleveland Clinic researchers, included patients -- mostly with Parkinson's disease -- as they were undergoing brain surgery. The researchers found that the study participants who listened to <a href="http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1929994,00.html" target="_hplink">pure melodies</a> -- versus just rhythmic arrangements, or a mix of the two -- were comforted the most. Their brains also reflected this calming, <em>TIME</em> reported, with some of the study participants even falling asleep.
Protects Your Ears' Sound-Processing Abilities
A 2011 study in the journal <em>Psychology and Aging</em> shows that being a lifelong musician is linked with <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/quick-study-lifelong-music-training-may-help-stave-off-hearing-loss/2011/09/28/gIQA0JI4IL_story.html" target="_hplink">better sound processing</a>, the <em>Washington Post</em> reported. The study included 163 people (74 of whom had played music all their lives). The researchers also found a link between hearing test scores and the amount of time the study participants practiced their music, according to <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/quick-study-lifelong-music-training-may-help-stave-off-hearing-loss/2011/09/28/gIQA0JI4IL_story.html" target="_hplink">the <em>Washington Post</em></a>.
Boosts Heart Health
Odd as it may seem, University of Maryland Medical Center researchers have found a link between listening to music and heart health. The researchers found that listening to joyful music is linked with <a href="http://www.umm.edu/news/releases/music-cardiovascular.htm" target="_hplink">dilation of blood vessels' inner lining</a>, meaning more flow of blood through the blood vessels. Specifically, the diameter of blood vessels grew by 26 percent when a person listened to happy music. However, the opposite effect was noted when a person listened to anxiety-triggering music -- blood vessel diameter <em>decreased</em> by 6 percent as a result. The research was presented in 2008 at a meeting of the American Heart Association.
Researchers from University of Utah Pain Research Center showed that listening to music is effective as a distraction for anxiety-prone people <a href="http://healthcare.utah.edu/publicaffairs/news/current/01-06-2012_Study_Pain_Relief.html" target="_hplink">from feeling pain</a>, and as a result, could help people feel less pain. The study, which included 143 people, was published in the <em>Journal of Pain</em>. The researchers found that music helped the study participants to have less arousal when shocked with non-dangerous fingertip electrodes.
Kids <a href="http://www.webmd.com/baby/news/20030728/music-lessons-verbal-memory" target="_hplink">who take music lessons</a> could be doing their brains a favor, according to Hong Kong researchers. WebMD reported that taking music lessons is linked with doing better on tests where you have to recall words you read on a list. And "the more music training during childhood, the better the verbal memory," study researcher Agnes S. Chan, PhD, a psychologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, <a href="http://www.webmd.com/baby/news/20030728/music-lessons-verbal-memory" target="_hplink">told WebMD</a>. "This strongly implies that the better verbal memory in children with music training is not simply a matter of differences in age, education level, or their family's socioeconomic characteristics."
Protects The Aging Brain
Having musical training could <a href="http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2011/04/25/music-training-may-help-keep-aging-brain-healthy" target="_hplink">protect your mental sharpness</a> in old age, according to a 2011 study in the journal <em>Neuropsychology</em>. HealthDay reported on the study of 70 people ages 60 to 83, with varying levels of music experience. The researchers from the University of Kansas Medical Center found that the people who had the <a href="http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2011/04/25/music-training-may-help-keep-aging-brain-healthy" target="_hplink">most musical training</a> in their lives had the best mental sharpness, and scored the highest on brain functioning tests.
Prevents Heart Transplant Rejection (In Mice)
It may so far only be shown in mice, but it's still pretty amazing: Japanese researchers found that exposing mice to certain kinds of music was linked with "prolonged survival" after a <a href="http://www.miller-mccune.com/health/classical-music-boosts-heart-transplant-survival-in-mice-40561/" target="_hplink">heart transplant</a>, Miller-McCune reported. The mice in the study were exposed to either Mozart, Verdi (opera music), New Age-type music, no music at all, or a sound frequency. Mice who listened to Mozart and Verdi had a <a href="http://www.miller-mccune.com/health/classical-music-boosts-heart-transplant-survival-in-mice-40561/" target="_hplink">longer survival time</a> after the heart transplant, compared to the other mice, according to Miller-McCune.
Improves Stroke Recovery
Finnish researchers found that listening to music soon after a stroke could <a href="http://www.news-medical.net/news/2008/02/20/35390.aspx" target="_hplink">help with recovery</a>, News Medical reported. Published in 2008 in the journal <em>Brain</em>, researchers found that <a href="http://www.news-medical.net/news/2008/02/20/35390.aspx" target="_hplink">listening to music</a> was linked with improved verbal memory and attention among stroke patients, compared with listening to audio books or not listening to anything at all.
Works As Well As A Massage At Lowering Anxiety
Massages are super-relaxing, sure -- but a study in the journal <em>Depression and Anxiety</em> shows that music could also do the trick, at least when it comes to <a href="http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2010/03/19/music-soothes-anxiety-as-well-as-massage-does" target="_hplink">decreasing anxiety</a>. Researchers from the Group Health Research Institute found that patients who got 10 hour-long massages had the same <a href="http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2010/03/19/music-soothes-anxiety-as-well-as-massage-does" target="_hplink">decreased anxiety symptoms</a> three months later as people who simply listened to music (and went sans-massage), HealthDay reported. The study included 68 people who received the 10 massages with music, laid down while listening to music (but didn't get a massage), or were wrapped with warm pads and towels while listening to music (but didn't get a massage), according to HealthDay.