Want a Better Workout? Add Music!

Research clearly establishes that regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to avoid serious illness and lengthen your life. But for many people, the question is how to get started and stick with an exercise routine?

There are all sorts of habits and tricks that are proven to help people establish consistent exercise routines. For starters, we know that a strong social support network helps people to sustain their fitness practice. Another body of evidence shows that being able to make individual choices about physical fitness and feeling self-motivated lead people to start and maintain exercise programs. And there’s another line of research that shows music leads to higher-quality workouts.

A systematic review including 32 studies and published in the International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology demonstrates that listening to music before and during exercise yields significant benefits.

Researchers found that listening to music before exercise helps people get pumped up to do their best, visualize what they want to accomplish and can help improve motor skills. And listening to music during exercise offered even greater benefits.

During endurance activities, such as running or cycling, listening to music helped to improve participants’ moods and efficiency, increase their stamina and led participants to put in harder efforts. People who listened to music during endurance activities reported lower levels of perceived exertion – meaning they didn’t realize they were working as hard as they were – even though their effort levels remained consistent or even increased.

During high-intensity exercise sessions such as sprint intervals or weightlifting, music improved participants’ stamina and again reduced their levels of perceived exertion.

The review included a few caveats. Listening to music yielded the greatest benefits when participants choose the music themselves or believed that the music was selected to accommodate their personal tastes. The music was also more effective when the participant was working at his or her own pace. And music yielded larger gains for recreational athletes compared to athletes who were highly-trained or participating in serious competitive sports.

The take-home message: Listening to music – especially motivational music that you choose yourself – is a reliable way to help increase the intensity and quality of your workouts.

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