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Life Synchronizing music to exercise: How the right tempo means a better workout

Researchers found that those who worked out to music with so-called rhythmic auditory stimulation got more bang for the buck without realizing it.

A study from the University of Toronto has confirmed what you might already assume: A good groove will help you move.

"Music intervention," it turns out, can increase the length of your workout by up to 70 per cent – especially when the tempo is synchronized to the pace of your stride.

In the study, 34 cardiac rehabilitation patients on a set exercise regime were split into three groups: one without music, one with personalized playlists, and a third with playlists that were enhanced with rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS) – essentially, extra beats – to see whether their exercise behaviour would improve.

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The researchers found that participants with RAS music didn't believe they were exerting as much energy, even though they increased the endurance, intensity and duration of their workouts.

Basically, music (with the right tempo) motivated them to perform better.

Professor Lee Bartel, the founder and acting director of U of T's Music and Health Research Collaboratory, says his team had assumed music would have some of these effects on workouts, but was surprised to discover "that this energy doesn't just last during the workout, it lasts into the day. [Participants] weren't just wearing their exercise monitors during their exercise assignment, but all day long [and] that's where we saw this fairly dramatic increase in our enhanced music group … who seemed to be more active the rest of the time."

The next phase of the study, a clinical trial awaiting funding, will try to figure out why that is.

For now, Bartel sees several possible explanations. "One is that when you have music that is rhythmically energetic, there is an effective or emotional trigger, and you feel better. This could be endorphins," he says. "The other thing is that there's a neurological effect from the beat itself … so the big question is, what is it about auditory stimulation that makes [moving] easier, makes the stride longer, or makes the muscles move more intensely?"

If this is the case for people who have experienced a cardiac event, such as a heart attack or stroke, Bartel and his team are also interested in how it might work for those without a known health condition. "Could this apply to the guy who's running a 100-metre sprint?" he asks. "If we had a sound at the pace at which those legs were supposed to move, would they move faster?"

In the meantime, for those of us working out, Bartel believes his initial study has a key takeaway to improve our exercise routines: "To have music at a beat that's faster than what you're going to walk or run is counterproductive. Choose music that is at the right speed."

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To do so, hit a stopwatch and count the number of steps you take in one minute. From there, you can use online software, such as Cadence or MixMeister, to analyze your song library and find music that has the same beats-per-minute as your pace. The final step is to put together a playlist, and put on those running shoes.

"We all know that greater fitness levels are good for all sorts of things … as a preventive for dementia, Alzheimer's or heart disease, [and] for better overall health and quality of life," Bartel says. "It's as easy as finding the right music and going for a walk."

Andante, allegro, and presto

Once you have counted the number of steps you take in one minute, match the number to music with the same beats-per-minute (BPM).

Here are a few tunes to choose from:

Drake, Forever – 70 BPM

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Taylor Swift, I Knew You Were Trouble – 77 BPM

Beyoncé, Work it Out – 87 BPM

AC/DC, Back in Black – 91 BPM

ABBA, Dancing Queen – 100 BPM

Kanye West, Stronger – 104 BPM

Sia, Breathe Me – 120 BPM

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Rihanna, Don't Stop the Music – 122 BPM

B-52s, Love Shack – 133 BPM

A Flock of Seagulls, I Ran – 148 BPM

Source: bpmdatabase.com

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