Fitness: Exercise Your Ears For A Better Body

By Stephen Kelly
It’s been said that music can soothe the savage beast, yet there’s nothing better than a driving beat and a quick tempo to release your inner animal. And when it comes to fitness and exercise, music can be a prime motivator. To better understand why, we need to look upstairs.

Music exerts major influences on the mind and body, and has the ability to release deep memories and emotions. Perhaps this is why people respond stronger to music than to most outside stimuli. And since people often equate music with movement and energy, the first few notes of a favorite song may be all that’s needed to put you into your zone.

After years of research, though, neurologists have yet to discover what happens in the brain to make music affect us emotionally. Studies have revealed that music is processed by many areas of the brain, including the centers of reward and emotion that are also stimulated by food, addictive drugs and sex. Throw exercise into this mix of pleasurable experiences and you can begin to see why music and exercising make for a potent combination.

All of this mental stimulation also causes the brain to enact chemical changes within the body. Besides acting as mood manipulator, music affects respiration, heart rate and blood pressure, reduces muscle tension and gives a general sense of overall well-being. Scientists have evidence that music can reduce levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol while raising levels of testosterone and pain-regulating endorphins. If you’re thinking those are the same changes caused by physical exertion, you’re on to something.

Making playlists of songs that are coordinated so the beats per minute in a song match your heart’s BPM as you exercise can really jack up the intensity of your cardio workout.

You can see how this double whammy of mental and physical forces can help ramp up the intensity of your workout. Listening to music can also distract you from oncoming fatigue, keeping the mind focused on something other than pounding heartbeat and labored breathing. This perception of exerting less can result in a harder, longer workout, faster calorie burn, a lessened sense of pain and stress, and that state of euphoria known as “runner’s high.”

Moreover, adding music to your workout can keep your routine from becoming routine, making potentially boring exercises like running on the treadmill fresh and exciting. This simple touch can help prevent burnout and keep people, particularly beginners, adhering to their workouts. Is it any wonder that working out to music is a no-brainer?

Most gyms bring the music to you, usually by playing a high-energy mash-up of rock, pop, dance and hip-hop. But this diversity of styles means you run the chance of listening to, and being distracted by, a lot of music you don’t like. But in this age of MP3 players, there’s no reason you can’t design your favorite music to fit your workout.

Whether it’s rock, rap or reggae, music can be a prime motivator, so let the music move you for a better workout.

iPod playlists give you the freedom to do just that. It’s a good idea to vary the music to match the pace of your workout. Your weight-lifting mix may be different from your treadmill collection, which you can coordinate so the beats per minute in a song match your heart’s BPM as you work out. The faster the pace, the more adrenaline you may release in to your system.

Of course, music appreciation is a purely subjective thing. One man’s masterpiece is another’s noise. But whether you’re into Metallica, Mozart or Madonna, it’s all good. The point is to listen to whatever moves you and connects with you emotionally. It can make the difference between a humdrum workout and one that rocks.

About Stephen Kelly Creative

Hi, I'm Stephen Kelly, a writer, editor, photographer and graphic designer living in beautiful San Francisco, CA, USA. Amongst the things I love are writing, photography, movies, music, fitness, travel, Batman, all things Australian, food and fun, all of which I hope to reflect in this here blog. Welcome aboard ... now let's get busy!
This entry was posted in Fitness, Health, Music, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Fitness: Exercise Your Ears For A Better Body

  1. fgassette says:

    Music is a good motivator for movement. I get my housework done faster with the music at its loudest. I do my exercises better with fast moving music. Thanks for sharing.


  2. drewpan says:

    I almost always run with a playlist of jogging songs. I choose them based on their bpm, which should roughly match the kind of pace I wanna maintain. If you listen to songs like A-Ha’s Take on Me, or Fear Factory’s Body Hammer, you’ll be able to gauge just what kind of pace I run at. Of course, there are also a couple of songs whose bpm doesn’t match, but has some motivational value too… like The Touch from the Transformers animated movie!

    • Hey Drew. Many years of playing ice hockey has done a number on my knees, so I can’t run on hard surfaces. My workouts now are 70% weight lifting, 30% treadmill/elliptical/stationary bike. I don’t set up my workout playlist to a certain bpm (although most people I know who run do the same as you). For me, it just needs to rock. Ballads and introspective slow songs do not make my playlist cut.
      Just LOVE A-Ha’s Take On Me! Classic, fun song from the awesome eighties!

      • drewpan says:

        OUCH! I didn’t know ice hockey was so hard on your knees. I thought it’d be jaws and shoulders that get messed up in that sport.

        • Oh yeah. The nature of the game demands quick cuts and turns in ways that your knees are not used to, and that you don’t do in everyday life. Jaws, not so much because you’re wearing a protective mask or cage. But shoulders, wrist, ankle and rib injuries are also very common. I have a laundry list of injuries that I’ve had in my illustrious playing career. Not complaining though. It’s the greatest game in the world, and I wear everyone of them like a badge of courage.

          • drewpan says:

            Nice! Hahaha! How are your front teeth? I’ve heard things about hockey players and their teeth.

            Ice hockey is even more unpopular here in Singapore than even the NFL! I mean, you could still pick up Madden NFL on the Xbox, but they don’t bring in any NHL games anymore.

          • Hehe … my teeth are all intact. Interesting response, Drew. Sometimes i wonder how American exports go over in other countries, especially sports and TV. I know you referred to the TV show in your last post on leering, so I guess you guys get some of our shows. Last time I was in Sydney I was in a Japanese restaurant with friends and Two And A Half Men was playing on the TV, to which I responded, “NOOOOOOOO!!!”

          • oops, TV show Bones, that is.

  3. Angeline M says:

    Currently limping around with a plantar fascitis, my favorite work out tunes are in the brahms category.

    • Wow, I’m sorry to hear that, Angeline. I thought I was coming down with plantar fascitis last year, and I know how uncomfortable and painful it can be. Luckily, it eventually subsided and I haven’t had an attack since, knock wood.

  4. My workout playlists would surprise most people who know me and my “usual” music tastes and personality traits, as would the volume at which I play them.

    • Hello again, Hippie, good to hear from you again. Elaborate, please. What are your usual music tastes? Just curious.

      • Oh, my stars. You may be the only person ever to have encouraged me to elaborate when talking about music. (Thank you!). I’ll try to be brief and then I’ll try to get around to wasting my own blog space with the details. . . .

        Augh . . I couldn’t do it, but you’ve encouraged me to try again to put it into a post.

        Like most music lovers, I love . . . well, most music — for the very reason you cite early in your piece: emotion.

        To narrow it down would be almost impossible, but generally speaking, acoustic music, particularly storytellers, singer/songwriters are what I’ve written about and what I listen to most (the well known artists such as Jackson Browne or the perhaps lesser known Richard Shindell, David Wilcox, or Shawn Colvin). I love blues, paradoxically enough, to cheer me up. Or jazz to chill me out.

        When I need to focus, I can’t play anything with lyrics because my brain wants to think about the word choices and arrangement and how the melody fits those choices. In those times, classical guitar fits the bill, particularly Bach for whatever reason, especially Julian Bream playing Bach (or on the modern side, Ottmar Liebert playing Ottmar Liebert).

        Somebody stop me. . . . (thanks for asking and indulging my replly, as if you had a choice.Believe it or not, that *was* brief.) 🙂

        • Hi Hippie! Thanks for the expansive response … it’s really cool getting an insight into your musical tastes. I love music so much, and I’m always fascinated to learn what other people are listening to. You really have some tasteful tastes in music. I really can relate to what you say about not being able to listen to anything with lyrics when you’re trying to focus. I work as a writer and editor, and I spend all day doing both. Like you, I can only listen to instrumental music of some sort when I’m working; when I listen to music with lyrics I’m focusing on their words and not mine. Like you, classical guitar really works for me (as does most classical). But I also listen to (and love) electronic/ambient music during the course of my day. It really puts me in a focused creative space. Some people find ambient music really strange, but I’ve been listening to it for years. I find it deep and sometimes very moving.

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