Are you one of those joggers who can't even think of stepping onto the road (or track) without your iPod? Well, science says there is a good reason. Here's why:
Music Can Trigger and Maintain Various Mental and Physical States
Music works like a high-speed remote control on your behavior. This is because it alters brainwaves as well as blood pressure. It may be capable, for example, of speeding up or slowing down your brainwaves as well as triggering the release of important neuro-chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline, into your bloodstream. As a result, songs can highly stimulate or relax you, depending on which way you want to go -- up or down -- and "optimize" your mindset for situationally specific events -- like athletics.
The nice thing is that with just a little science you can intensify these effects, make them last longer, and to eventually get your mind to produce them almost instantly, all on its own -- even without the music.
Here's how you can get started.
- Pick songs you like a lot. It really doesn't matter what kind of music you use. What's important is that you like it. If you like classical, try Mozart's "Sonata in D Major K448." This one is iconic.
- Use BPM. The easiest way to begin organizing a playlist is to use the songs' number of beats per minute (BPM). This is because rhythm and tempo have a direct tie-in to alertness and focus, as well as facilitating muscle coordination and movement. A BPM of 130 or greater (as opposed to 100 or lower) has been shown, for example, to increase mental acuity and flow. Faster rhythms increase motivation, alertness, and mental flow so you get a double effect: flowing muscles and a flowing mind -- all good news for joggers. Relaxation and calm can be brought on by a lower BPM.
To give you the idea, a song like Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" comes in at a moderate 124 BPM, whereas "Turn Me On" by Norah Jones runs a leisurely 56 BPM, and Knack's "My Sharona" thumps in at a brisk150 BPM. The Stray Cats' "Rock This Town" moves at a BPM of 207. You can find your songs' BPM with a Google or iTunes search
Playlist Bonus: If you want to really give yourself a lift, play a song with a slow BPM (90 or preferably even less) and then put on your faster rhythms.
- Track songs of 135-160 BPM. Arrange as would enjoy hearing them. Or after doing your run a few times, you may discover that you begin to naturally prefer certain songs over others at specific points in your jog -- e.g., when you get to the "park," when you hit the two-mile point or a particular hill and so on. Simply revise your playlist to match what you'd like to hear at those points in your run.
- Anticipate songs as they approach. This will work as a reward, boosting important neuro-chemicals and increasing your feeling of euphoria.
- Arc your playlist. You can do this by organizing songs so they gradually increase in BPM, getting you into the flow of things and smoothly getting you up to your desired running speed. Once you hit the keel you're after, you can keep the playlist's BPM in a steady range for as long as you like. You can also alternately move it upward (to a higher BPM) with a faster song or songs whenever you feel you want more in terms of oomph or speed. The idea is to figure out when and where you want to pump up your run and program the songs in so they will deliver that effect at those specific points -- do the same with same with slower tunes -- as they will help you re-charge when you need it, again keeping your steady keel somewhere in the range of 135-160 or whatever is comfortable for your age and skill.
You'll know when a song is too slow or fast because you will literally feel it working against you -- you'll have trouble synchronizing to the tempo or rhythm. Staying in a fast-paced rhythm and tempo for too long will dry up the faucet, so to speak, and the song will become dysfunctional, so you want to avoid that.
- Consider the emotional connection. Pick songs that send you the right emotional message to power your run.
- Use songs that spark feel-good memories. The emotional factor can trump BPM, so don't be worried about mixing in a song with lower BPM as you arc your playlist. Creating your arc is more about the song's uplifting or relaxing effect on you than it is about sticking to just tempos.
- Use slow meditative music at the end of your of your jog -- for a cool-down. Ten to 12 minutes of this as you work through your stretches will leave you feeling like a million bucks. Mixing in a little slow movement, tai chi or yoga at the end will put the frosting on the cake.
Here are some of my favorite jogging songs:
- I Can See Clearly Now -- Jimmy Cliff
- Let's Spend The Night Together -- The Rolling Stones
- Brown Eyed Girl -- Van Morrison
- Margaritaville -- Jimmy Buffett
- Rock Around The Clock -- Bill Haley & The Comets
- I Fought the Law -- Green Day (not available on Spotify)
- Karma Chameleon -- Sixpack (not available on Spotify)
- Mrs. Robinson -- The Lemonheads
- Rise Above -- Black Flag
- The Boys Of Summer -- The Ataris
- So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star -- The Byrds
- Turn! Turn! Turn! -- The Byrds
So have fun and start turning your iPod into your ultimate mind-enhancer. Be flexible in setting up your playlists. Remember, to a large extent numbers are just numbers, suggestions and general markers to inspire you. So whatever works for you, go for it. Enjoy.
 Mindlin, Galina; Cardillo, Joseph; and DuRousseau, Donald. Your Playlist Can Change Your Life: 10 Proven Ways Your Favorite Music Can Revolutionize Your Health, Memory, Organization Alertness and More. Sourcebooks. Naperville, Illinois 2012.
For more by Joseph Cardillo, Ph.D., click here.
For more on fitness and exercise, click here.
Flickr photo by Tobyotter