Why Music Helps You Work Out

There’s a reason the Walkman was one of the fastest-selling electronic devices in history. And a reason why the iPod lead to other personal music devices. And a reason why everyone’s mobile phone can also double as their stereo.

There’s a reason why every dramatic scene from the climax of a sports movie comes with a fully orchestrated score to punctuate the score that happens on the screen. And a reason why sports highlights on TV sound like the announcers are reporting from a Deadmau5 concert.

There’s a reason your gym blasts uptempo music for every member on a treadmill. And a reason why Zumba rose so swiftly in popularity as a group exercise class.

And now we have science to confirm why. Humans perform better when music is playing, and a recent article on Salon highlights these reasons why.

The research goes back over a century with the first reported study involving cyclists in 1911 who pedaled faster when a band played versus riding in silence. But the reasons why our brains respond are varied and interesting.

It’s not just the tempo of the music, but the “rhythm response” people have to a song, in other words the way it makes our bodies want to move when we hear it. Studies have shown that 120 beats per minute (bpm) is a sweet spot for us, with two beats per second more or less the speed at which many of us settle into when walking. In fact a study of more than 70,000 songs from 1960 to 1990 found this to be the most popular beat of all. (Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” is a song that’s 120 bpm.)

But when we run on a treadmill, our bodies want faster tempos, often between 145 and 160 bpm. “Cupid Shuffle” comes in at 145 bpm and our bodies natural response to its rhythms could be a reason for its popularity.

One other important factor behind music being such a motivator for working out is that we can push our bodies further when we are flushed with emotions and music is easily able to sustain our emotions over a longer period of time. How many times have you run an extra half mile because your favorite song came up on shuffle play? There’s a perfect example.

If you’re looking for great workout mixes, look no further than some I’ve made in the past. What are your favorite songs to work out to?