Performance booster: High-tempo music can make exercise easier, more beneficial

VERONA, Italy — Many gym-goers feel like they can’t properly work out without a pair of headphones and their favorite tunes. Now, a new study is validating their approach to fitness, at least concerning more upbeat, high-tempo songs. Researchers from the University of Verona in Italy have found evidence that engaging, fast paced songs can actually reduce the perceived effort associated with working out and increase an exercise session’s overall benefits.

According to the study’s results, music proved especially helpful with endurance exercises like walking or jogging, and less so for more strenuous activities like weight lifting.

This isn’t the first research project to conclude that music can help ramp up a workout. For example, previous studies have found music can help gym-goers distract themselves from the fatigue they may be feeling. That being said, the way in which people experience music is obviously very subjective; everyone has their own musical tastes, which are usually influenced by a variety of cultural and personal factors.

So, for this study, the research team wanted to focus on identifying some universal musical qualities that can aid in exercise performance. More specifically; which types of music are best suited for enhancing certain types of exercise. A piece of music’s tempo seemed like a good place to start, so a group of female volunteers were gathered together to listen to pieces of music with different tempos while performing two types of exercise: walking on a treadmill (endurance) and using a leg press (high-intensity).

Each woman completed the exercises once in complete silence, and then again while listening to a pop song at varying tempo speeds. During the exercise sessions, participants heart rates were monitored, and each woman’s opinion on the music’s influence over her workout was recorded.

“We found that listening to high-tempo music while exercising resulted in the highest heart rate and lowest perceived exertion compared with not listening to music,” explains Professor Luca P. Ardigò of the University of Verona in Italy in a release. “This means that the exercise seemed like less effort, but it was more beneficial in terms of enhancing physical fitness.”

Researchers say the effect of the music was more noticeable during endurance exercises, suggesting that cardio exercises likely see the biggest universal performance boost from music.

“In the current study, we investigated the effect of music tempo in exercise, but in the future we would also like to study the effects of other music features such as genre, melody, or lyrics, on endurance and high intensity exercise,” Ardigò notes.

The study is published in Frontiers in Psychology.