Listen Your Way to a Healthier You

Have you ever felt unmotivated to get up and exercise? No fear: Just add music.

In our increasingly non-stop, work-oriented culture, it can be difficult to find time to work out or go for a run. Waking up early and groggily jogging might not appeal to everyone, and lifting weights after a grueling day on the job might seem too much. Sure, you know you should be exercising, but the repetitive motions can become boring enough to find a rewatch of “House of Cards’” third season more captivating. Music, however, might change your outlook on exercise.

When you press play on your music app on the subway home, notice how your head starts to bop or your foot begins tapping. The human body wants to match the rhythm of the music it hears. Your lips are moving to your favorite artist’s lyrics, the ones that pulled you through a rough patch. Suddenly you feel better about your report from a meeting that morning, and you might even be motivated to do a quick workout before bed tonight.

Music can be a conduit to a better, more motivated workout performance.

Meredith Rifkin, fitness enthusiast and the DJ/curator of BTRtoday’s longstanding music playlists The Afrobeat Show, Caribbean Fever, and Xtreme Endurance, says that music can “boost endurance by up to 15 percent.” Not only does music improve your stamina, but it can “increase motivation” and “reduce fatigue.” Being aesthetically distracted by music allows the human brain to lose focus on the pain exercise creates.

Ms. Rifkin notes that a fast tempo would stimulate a runner “[going] at a moderate pace to work harder.” “Sympathy for the Devil” at 116 beats per minute fits a leisurely walk whereas “Paint It Black” at 160 beats per minute is more suited for a fat burning run. (Perhaps Mick, Keith, and co. should’ve called themselves The Running Stones.)

Besides the rhythm of a song, your preference for musicality, the piece’s cultural impact, and your personal associations to it will determine how effectively your workout playlist could push you harder for a better performance. “My Heart Will Go On” might make you think of a young, tragic Leo DiCaprio whereas “Everything Is AWESOME!!!” might motivate you to move and dance (or play with Legos) because of the track’s undeniable positivity.

In addition to a faster tempo physiologically motivating you (i.e., the listener’s heart seeking to beat at the same rhythm as the music playing), Ms. Rifkin recommends that “upbeat music with happy lyrics” will encourage listening exercisers on an emotional level. Happy lyrics will positively arouse listeners on an intellectual level. While the melody distracts the brain from focusing on exerted motor systems, the intellect pays attention to the positivity of the words. Working in unison, this improves endurance and motivation while reducing fatigue.

Are there any negative effects of listening to music? Ms. Rifkin says no, but there is a ceiling for music-assisted exercise. “When people work out at their peak, not even music can help them then.” At some point, the sound of your body’s exertion will be louder than the music in your ears.

When asked what her favorite music for exercising is, Ms. Rifkin says, “House, electro, and dancehall reggae…anything I like to dance to is good for working out.” If you enjoy the song, if it makes you feel good and want to move to its musicality, try working out to it. You might run faster, bike longer, or lift more!