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.
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 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.”
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, the 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.”
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