The Magic of Music
One of the most fun video shoots I’ve ever done was the “Latin Rhythm Workout” for my Dance Your Body Slim DVD. I brought in a 14-piece band and we danced the cha-cha and samba, and it was a blast. The music became such an integral element. It provided the soul and inspiration behind the dance moves. It’s also why Zumba classes are so popular; once you hear the beat, you just have to start dancing, and we all know that leads to some serious calorie burning.
But the power of music isn’t reserved for dance alone. Music adds an extra dimension to any exercise. It can help you relax with yoga or get you in the mood to sweat. Exercise and music definitely complement each other.
Meaning to Music
Do you ever catch yourself tapping your foot or snapping your fingers when a familiar or upbeat song comes on the radio, almost without thinking? Or have you ever watched how toddlers respond to music? It’s like they can’t help but dance because the music takes over their bodies.
Well, there’s a physiological reason for these reactions. Scientists have found that music and movement are “entangled” in the brain. When we hear any kind of music or melody there’s an increase in electrical activity in areas of the brain responsible for coordinating movement. That beat or rhythm literally sends our brain the message to move our bodies.
Research on how music affects physical performance goes as far back as 1911 when an observer discovered cyclists pedaled faster when listening to a band than when their surroundings were silent. More recently, various studies have pinpointed some concrete reasons why music plays a big part in effective exercising.
• Music enhances mental awareness.
Whether it’s a fun song like Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” that makes you smile or a tune from a Broadway musical like Rent’s “La Vie Boheme” that tells a story, songs generally lift our mood, and when we’re happy, we’re in a better fame of mind to accomplish tasks.
• Music stimulates.
An interesting phenomenon happens when exercising to a certain beat or tempo (the speed of a song): our bodies instinctually fall in time with it. I love it when a song has a strong beat that matches my exercise steps.
While scientists have found most people naturally prefer a rhythm of 120 beats per minute (bpm)—Adele’s “Rumour Has It” is a great example of this tempo—one study showed that treadmill walkers performed better when the music is amped up to 160 bpm. A classic example of this tempo is “The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra.
Conduct your own fun musical experiment. Mix up your playlist with varying tempo songs and hit random, then watch how you react when an upbeat song starts playing. See if you automatically move faster or slow down a bit when the tempo drops for a more relaxing music track. This is a great tool for interval training. Create a library of songs that alternate tempos—slow to begin with, then pick up the pace and slow again. When the song changes, that’s your cue to change your intensity level. Sites like jog.fm make it easier by listing songs’ beats per minute.
• Music masks discomfort
Let’s face it, there comes a point when you think you’ve had enough. Your muscles start aching and you feel fatigued. When you have a melodic accompaniment, though, you tend to push through that stage without having to give a lot more effort.
Researchers believe music intercepts thoughts of discomfort and tiredness and keeps them from convincing us to stop. In a way, listening to music distracts us from how much effort we think an exercise requires. Instead, you focus on the melody and lyrics, which empowers you to push through plateaus. Studies showed that musical exercisers had greater endurance than those who don’t listen while exercising. In fact, Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London says music is “a type of a legal performance-enhancing drug.”
Music Made Easy
What I find really interesting about the relationship between music and movement is that it is not genre-specific. All kinds of music motivate, from classical to pop, country to hip-hop. So upload your favorites to your MP3 player or borrow your kids’ player to hear what they’re listening to if you want something really contemporary. Also, check out my Calorie Burning Workout playlist on Spotify if you’re searching for song suggestions:
Also, all kinds of gadgets exist to make it easy to “tune out” when exercising. These include wireless headphones, a wristwatch-style player, an armband to hold an iPod or Smartphone, and even waterproof ear buds if you want to listen while swimming. Some devices and apps even select songs based on your heart rate or performance level. And, a quick reminder: don’t crank up the volume too loud when you’re running or walking. Make sure you can hear traffic and things happening around you.
Remember, as an annual ReShape subscriber, I’ll guide you through six different audio workouts, all of which are set to a fun beat. Get started today by clicking the “Audio Workouts” tab above.
Here’s to your health!