For some, exercising while listening to music is a must. Others may find it too distracting. This is a subject that the scientific community has spent a fair amount of time on with findings that are fairly conclusive.

According to a 2009 Livescience article, appropriate music does have a positive effect on working out. Several decades worth of research has been conducted at Brunel University in Britain regarding the link between music and exercise.

The Role of Rhythm

Not surprisingly, factors like our preference for a certain genre and relevance to our musical background do influence exercise. When people listen to music they like, they experience a more efficient workout. But when people listen to music with rhythm that synchronizes with their heart rate, they experience even greater workout efficiency. One study found that this synchronization with music led to a 15% increase in endurance.

The Speed Factor

In another study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, an interesting link was found between music tempo (speed) and exercise efficiency. 12 male cyclists were put through a cycling workout. Each subject selected their own workout rate, but all were played the same selection of six popular music tracks. The workout was repeated three times. Unbeknownst to the subjects, the tempo was played at normal speed, increased by 10% and decreased by 10%

These imperceptible adjustments did result in a change in overall workout. When the tempo was increased, the participants peddled faster, with greater power and increased pedal cadence. When it was decreased pedal speed, power and cadence decreased as well. The implication is clear. Faster tempo, either intrinsic to the music or artificially increased, results in greater work rate. This is due to fast-tempo music providing both distraction and motivation.

Music Selection

So what kind of music is best for a workout?  Science has something to say about workout music as well. A Scientific American article discusses research about our preferences for workout music. The important factors for selecting the right music for your workout playlist are tempo and “rhythm response,” which is simply how much a song motivates you to move.

With regard to tempo, songs of at least 120 beats per minute (bpm) are preferred with 140 to 160 bpm usually being the most effective. A plateau effect seems to occurs around 145 bpm, with faster music resulting in minimal increase in exercise efficiency.

As for rhythm response, this is more subjective. If there’s a type of music or an artist you like, listen to it. The enjoyment factor will serve as a distraction from discomfort, if nothing else. Music that suits your taste and also makes you want to get off the couch and get moving is even better.

If you’re looking for motivation to exercise or want to push your workout a bit further, add music to your regimen. The research is abundant and conclusive. Music motivates on a measurable level and will help move you into a healthier lifestyle.