Music & Fitness: Listening to songs can boost exercise

Music & Fitness: Listening to songs can boost exercise

Music has always been a part of my life. Growing up, my dad was a fan of the big band era and entertainers like Frank Sinatra. He would buy toy instruments and distribute them among all of his children. Then, with the music blaring, he had us pretend we were performing while he was leading the band.

It was a lot of fun, and may have been what prompted me to take up the drums in elementary school. I got pretty good and began to play professionally in high school and after college to earn extra money. In my 20’s, I cashed in on the Elvis impersonator trend by playing drums for a local show. I made some decent pocket change until the fad subsided and, more compelling, my main career gained momentum.

So, as I look back, it’s no surprise that as a 60-something man now devoted to healthy living, music still plays a special role in my life. Turns out, the intersection of music and fitness, where I now reside, is a common experience among those that practice healthy behaviors. Even more noteworthy is the science behind the motivational characteristics of music, and the role that music, when tailored to your tastes, can play in supporting a healthy lifestyle.

Now, some of this may seem rather intuitive. Constant music is a staple at gyms. Headphones or earbuds with accompanying iPhones are equally prominent among the exercise crowd, for those who enjoy their own custom selection. Still, with so many people, including men over 50, looking to find any edge that gets them into an exercise routine – and keep them there – music might just be the trick.

For me, music has been a fitness motivator ever since it became portable with CD players and devices like MP3 players. No matter the technology, I’ve always had the latest device in my pocket or strapped to my arm. Today, an Apple watch, or iPhone is my source with Bluetooth-connected earbuds.

My, we’ve come a long way. But, what’s behind this notion of a music-based boost to your exercise regimen? Let’s see what the science says.

Physical and mental benefits

Music can make the unpleasantness of exercising much more manageable, and for some, even fun, particularly if you’re listening to your preferred genre. According to the Psychological Bulletin, “music has been found to exert positive effects on physical activity.” Reporting on a meta-analysis of studies, the Bulletin suggests music can create a positive reaction that enhances your performance and diminishes fatigue.

The Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology emphasizes the influence of one’s preferred music selection, and endorses music’s ability to increase output during workouts including endurance, spirit and resistance training.

The National Center for Health Research says that motivational or synchronized music can improve your workout by increasing your stamina and putting you in a better mood. The Center cites studies that show enhanced athletic performance when participants listened to faster-paced music. Improvements included distance travelled, pace and repetitions.

And, in an article published by the American Psychological Association, researchers who looked at the music-exercise relationship concluded that there were “significant positive effects for exercisers and athletes.” But in a point particularly relevant to 50-plus men, the APA emphasized that a clear target for the use of music is enjoyment during exercise that could lead to increased activity among those previously inactive. There you go gentlemen. Activity, the magic word. Anything that can spur activity has got to be worth trying.

Positive impacts on your brain

Dr. Haitham Ahmed, a cardiologist who previously worked at the Cleveland Clinic, reports that adding music to your workouts can improve your mental well-being, pointing to reports that show a reduction in depressive feelings after just three months. 

Johns Hopkins Medicine says music can keep your brain young. The health system cites research showing reductions in anxiety, blood pressure and pain, as well as improved sleep quality, mood, mental alertness and memory — all from music!

And, the results of a study published in PLUS ONE reported that the combination of music and exercise had more positive effects on cognitive function in older individuals than exercise alone.  

The evidence is everywhere

Think about it. If you attend a high school or college football game, the band is there to generate energy and motivate the crowd. Professional sports of all kinds will blast out rock music at every time-out and pause in the action. In both the pros and college, it is common to see players wearing headphones as they enter the locker room before a game and during pre-game warm-ups.

Yes, the evidence is literally everywhere that music is integrated into all things athletic. So why not bring music into your personal athletic activities? It’s a performance enhancer, motivator, mood-lifter, stress reliever, fatigue fighter and brain booster.

Rock out

Costas I. Karageorghis, a sports psychology professor at Brunel University in England, is renowned for his reasearch on the effects of music in the realm of exericse and sport. According toKarageorghis, most commercial dance music is built around a tempo of 120 and 140 beats per minute, which aligns with the average heart rate during exercise and provides a rhythm response that promotes synchronization of movement and music, and creates efficiency and energy. Who knew? I just thought it felt good.

Next time you head out on a run or hit the gym, bring along some music and make sure it’s your favorite stuff. It can increase your odds of making exercise a habit.


Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of “Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50.” Read more from Louis on his website.