Everyone knows that music influences people—that it holds a special power all its own.
But what are its "magical properties?
For years researchers have studied why and how music has such an enormous effect on people. Music has been found to boost athletic performance; soothe and heal injuries; help depression, autism, and Alzheimer's; and increase academic performance. It seems there is something more to those tunes that get our toes tapping and our fingers snapping.
Exercise and Music
It isn't surprising that music is a boon when it comes to working out. After all, walk into any gym – almost all the members are wearing earphones. But music doesn't only keep us entertained while exercising – it has been proven to increase performance. Even competitive athletes take advantage of its powers: track star Haile Gebrselassie set an indoor world record for the 2000 meters in 1999 by synchronizing his stride to the song Scatman. But why exactly is music so helpful in our quest for fitness?
Understanding how music affects exercising is dependent on grasping the entrainment (not entertainment) principle. Entrainment is when two or more unconnected rhythms synchronize, or begin to have the same beat. Scientist Christian Huygens discovered this principle in 1665, when he placed two pendulum clocks on a wall and found that they eventually began to swing at the same rate. This same principle explains why the footsteps of a jogger fall into the same rhythm as the music he or she is listening to.
Because of the entrainment principle, our bodies naturally push themselves to be in sync with the music that we are listening to. When exercising it's important to have several different music tracks, with varying beats, so that you can warm up to a slower beat and work your way up to a faster one, which will elevate your heart rate.
According to Dr. Costas Karageorghis, a researcher studying the relationship between music and exercise, the ideal tempo for a power walker is 137 to 139 BPM (beats per minute); for a runner, it would be around 147 to 160 BPM. The wonderful thing is, it doesn't matter what kind of music you use--if you can find a song with the right beat, whether it's classical, country, or rock, it will push you and motivate you just the same.
However, the entrainment principle isn't the only thing that makes music such a powerful motivator to exercise. Music also has the incredible power to boost positive feelings and block out bad ones. In fact, music can take away much of the body's awareness of aching lungs, beating heart, and lactic acid. It can reduce a person's perception of effort by 10 percent, which can make all the difference when you are pushing for those last minutes of a tough workout.
Music has also been proven to help with consistency in workouts. In 2005, Christopher Capuano, director of Fairleigh Dickinson University's School of Psychology, conducted a study which tracked a small group of overweight or obese women for twenty-four weeks while they dieted and exercised. Half of the women were told to listen to music of their choice while exercising. While all the participants lost weight, the women who listened to music were more consistent with their exercise routines (they adhered to the program 98 percent of the time), resulting in greater weight loss than the other group (who adhered only 68 percent of the time).
Music can make a huge difference in lives. Anyone who has listened to an inspired choir in a church meeting knows the effect that their simple harmonies have on people. Somehow music is able to connect with parts of us that speaking just can't reach. While research continues to be done, the whys behind the power of music have yet to be discovered. For now, the reason these joyful strains have such an effect on us will remain an amazing and wondrous mystery.