We all have that go-to playlist or album which gets us in the mindset for exercise: after all, it’s no secret that listening to music during a workout helps us to feel more motivated and pumped to get moving. But understanding why music makes us feel this way – and the other benefits listening to something during a workout can provide – is something we’re less familiar with.
A new analysis of research from a team of researchers at the University of Southern Queensland and Brunel University set out to do just that. Their paper, “Effects of Music in Exercise and Sport: A Meta-Analytic Review”, aimed to collate all the available research from the last 100 years to discover all the ways in which music can help us during exercise.
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And while their research did, of course, prove that one of the primary ways in which music can help us during exercise is through its ability to make it seem easier and more enjoyable, they also discovered a number of other ways in which listening to our favourite songs can boost our workout.
1. Music can boost our mood
Studies have repeatedly shown that music has the power to make us feel good by triggering positive feelings and helping us to remember good memories, and this has something to do with how music helps us during a workout. The “dissociative strategy” engaged by listening to music helps us to zone out from the pain or effort of the workout and tune in to the memories and good feelings playing in our head, making it easier to continue.
2. Music can enhance physical performance
We all know that listening to an upbeat song can help to get us going during a workout (Juice by Lizzo, anyone?), but there’s a reason why. According to the study, music can actually boost our physical performance because it helps to increase output. But what does that mean?
When we listen to an upbeat song, we’re actually more likely to increase the rate at which we complete repetitive, rhythmic movements during aerobic exercise – because we naturally synchronize our movements to the beat of the song.
3. Music makes exercise seem easier
Music can make exercise seem easier because, as we’ve previously mentioned, it helps us to zone out from the pain and focus on the good side. This has a big benefit: notably, making us feel more motivated to exercise again.
After all, it makes sense that we’d want to avoid something that puts us through pain – aka, a workout – but by listening to music, we create a positive association with exercise in our brains. This positive association makes the whole process of deciding to work out a whole lot easier in the future, as we don’t have those negative/painful associations pulling us back.
4. Music can improve physiological efficiency
“What is physiological efficiency?” we hear you say. Basically, music helps to increase blood flow and reduce the amount of oxygen intake required to perform at the same level of intensity without music, meaning our body can work harder without paying the price. Easy peasy.
“No one would be surprised that music helps people feel more positive during exercise … [but] the fact that music provided a significant boost to performance would surprise some people,” said lead author Peter Terry, dean of graduate research and innovation at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia.
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So next time you’re struggling to get going at the gym, make sure to turn to your headphones for some motivation.
As it turns out, music could be the best gym buddy you’ve ever discovered.
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As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.