Despite awareness of its importance for overall wellbeing, some people honestly dislike exercise. Recently, scientists investigated whether recorded music, and music videos, could be used to alter people’s emotional responses during exercise, perhaps making that dreaded treadmill workout feel slightly less terrible.1 The question remains:
Could you actually fool your brain into liking exercise with the help of music?
In the study, participants were asked about musical tracks that they found especially motivating. A selection of these tracks and their music videos was chosen by the researchers to be used in the experiment. The musical pieces all had a tempo of 126 beats per minute or over, and included tracks like “Titanium.”
The experiment started with determining the lactate threshold for individual participants by having them cycle with gradually increasing load and measuring the lactate levels from blood samples taken every 4 minutes. The lactate threshold signifies a level of physical activity where the body produces more lactate than it is able to remove – typically around 85 % of maximum heart rate, indicating considerable physical exertion.
The participants then cycled for 20 minutes at their personal lactate threshold on three separate days, under three conditions: 1) while listening to motivating music, 2) while listening to music and viewing the music video and 3) without either.
The emotional state of the participants was measured before the exercise, as well as every 2 minutes during the exercise, and a few times after cool-down. The questionnaire for obtaining emotion ratings simply ranged from “feeling very good” (+5) to “very bad” (–5). The level of arousal was also measured with a simple scale ranging from 1 (low arousal) to 6 (high arousal), before, during, and after the exercise.
According to the results, listening to music or watching and listening to music videos evoked more positive emotion than the control condition, specifically at the beginning of the strenuous exercise. Furthermore, the music video condition evoked slightly more positive ratings than only listening to music. Therefore, music listening and watching music videos may make exercising a more positive experience! Interestingly, there were no differences in the evoked emotions at later stages of the exercise, when the going got really tough. It may be that 18 minutes into strenuous exercise at your lactate threshold, there is no music in the world that could trick you into you say you are feeling “very good!”
However, right after the exercise had ended, the emotional state of participants was significantly more positive in the music and music video than the no-music condition. This final finding may actually be the most important one – it is probably more likely that a person will engage in exercise again, if the emotional state after exercise is positive. What keeps us coming back to the gym is probably not the sweat and the pain of physical exertion, but rather that wonderful feeling you get afterwards.
In summary, music listening and even watching music videos during exercise can support positive feeling. At least at the beginning of the exercise activity, and perhaps also during lower levels of exertion. But most importantly, exercising with music will make you feel better after the whole ordeal is done - making it more likely you’ll remember the workout as a positive experience, and come back for more. So, whether you’re looking for an extra boost for your exercise motivation or just any motivation to begin with, music might be a great way to fool your brain into liking exercise more!
Written By Ketki Karanam & Marko Ahtisaari
1. Bird, J. M., Hall, J., Arnold, R., Karageorghis, C. I., & Hussein, A. (2016). Effects of music and music-video on core affect during exercise at the lactate threshold. Psychology of Music, 0305735616637909 DOI: 10.1177/0305735616637909