Music Makes Hard Workouts Feel Easier, Study Confirms

People performing a rigorous stress test were able to sweat it out for nearly a minute longer when they listened to upbeat tunes.

If you feel like music gives your workout an extra boost, you’re not alone. Now, researchers at Texas Tech University say they’ve figured out just how much upbeat tunes can increase our tolerance for intense exercise: In a new study, participants who listened to music during a cardiac stress test were able to sweat it out for nearly a minute longer than those who didn’t.

The new study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, will be presented this week at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting in Orlando. The authors say their findings place some real data behind what many of us already know: that exercise can make hard workouts seem simpler.

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“At least on a small scale, this study provides some evidence that music may help serve as an extra tool to help motivate someone to exercise more—which is critical to heart health,” said lead author Waseem Shami, MD, a cardiology fellow at Texas Tech University Health Sciences, in a press release.

Dr. Shami and his colleagues recruited 127 patients, each of whom was already scheduled for a routine electrocardiogram (ECG) treadmill stress test. The exam is used to measure how the heart responds to increasingly strenuous exercise; in this case, both the treadmill speed and incline were increased every three minutes.

Half of the participants were randomly selected to listen to Latin-inspired, up-tempo music during their time on the treadmill, while the other half walked in silence. (All participants wore headphones, to prevent the investigators from knowing who was in which group.)

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When they crunched the numbers, the researchers found that people who listened to music stuck with the test for an average of 8 minutes and 26 seconds, compared to an average of 7 minutes and 35 seconds for the no-music group. “After six minutes, you feel like you are running up a mountain, so even being able to go 50 seconds longer means a lot,” said Dr. Shami in the press release.

This isn’t the first study to suggest that a sick beat and a catchy tune can improve athletic performance. Some research even suggests that people delight in high-intensity workouts more when they’re paired with rhythm and melodies. Then again, other experts have noted that there may be a downside to working out with music: Auditory distractions can affect biomechanics, one 2017 study found, and might raise your risk of injury.

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While this is the first study to show how music can affect the results of a cardiac stress test, the researchers believe their findings could apply to people in other settings that involve hard exercise, as well—and that putting these findings to use might help motivate people to get the amount (and intensity) of physical activity they need.

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