Sound Advice for your Workout

Sound Advice for Your Workout

Music increases health and healing

MUSIC MOVES US. MOST FITNESS INSTRUCTORS and gym owners know that pumping up the volume on music will pump up energy. However, aside from setting a pace and helping time to pass more pleasantly, research shows that music can actually enhance physical performance, increase health, and help in healing the mind and body.

Music to Sweat to

According to modern research, music can affect concentration, endurance, energy levels, muscle tension, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. In fact, a study out of Ohio State University showed that listening to music even helped people with severe respiratory disease increase their fitness levels. Despite shortness of breath, which is the main symptom of the disease, by the end of the study the total walking distance covered by the music group was 24% higher than that walked by the non-music group.

Music also has the power to move our emotions, which can help us to move our perceptions and our bodies. Push play on a tune that moves you and you can increase positive emotions and lift spirits, thereby stimulating changes in brain chemicals that are associated with healing. It's no accident that lively, rhythmic music is used to accompany exercise. Upbeat, fast tempos that feature simple harmonies and flowing rhythms may trigger joy and the positive physiological benefits that accompany it.

In the first study of its kind to mathematically quantify the emotional impact of music, music psychologist Emery Schubert, PhD, of the University of New South Wales, concluded that, "Among other things, loudness, tempo, and pitch have a measurable impact on people's emotional response to music."

Aside from hearing music for aerobics, cycling, and step classes, it is becoming common to see people working up a sweat to personally chosen music selections on CD and MP3 players - and with good reason. Several studies have demonstrated the benefits of working out to music. A study at Ohio State University confirmed that people using treadmills (known as deadmills by many) felt as though they were exerting themselves less when they jogged to music. Other studies have shown that exercising to music makes the physical output seem less difficult, allowing one to put in a longer workout.

People are motivated by different types of music. Most fitness trainers agree that hip-hop or pop songs that provide a beat and a fast pace are great for cardiovascular workouts. New or old, certain songs just motivate certain people. For weight training, a beat is not necessary, so many find they are driven by heavy metal music.

Music for Health and Healing

While research about music and health is a hot new subject, using the power of music in a health regime is old news. The great philosophers of ancient Greece, including the holistic physician, Pythagoras, as well as Plato and Aristotle, considered music indispensable for maintaining health of both the mind and body. Ancient healers used music to restore health that had been interrupted by disease.

Modern healers agree. Jonathan Goldman, author of Healing Sounds, The Power of Harmonics (Healing Arts Press, 2002), writes that, "Illness occurs when some sort of contra-vibration intrudes on the normal one. Sound can be used to change these disharmonious frequencies back to normal, healthful vibrations, thereby restoring health." See these books on the healing power of sound.

The drumbeats of the Native American shamans have been used to slow brain waves to allow healing and the singing bowls of the Tibetans are used to produce healing vibrations. Modern music therapists use sounds and vibrations to elevate the mood, enhance peace and healing, and to relax the nervous system. Yoga and other means of relaxing the body have benefited from the use of music for years.

Barry Bittman, MD, a neurologist, author, producer/director and medical director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville,Philadelphia, studies and writes about the connection between music and health. He says that, "While scientists throughout the world are eagerly searching for specific music genes, it doesn't take a genius to realize music, emotions, and our nervous systems are inseparable."

The University of Hong Kong reports that children involved in music lessons remember words more readily and have improved cognitive skills in the area of math and science. This "Mozart effect", as it has been dubbed, appears to have lasting results - the study showed that adults who had a musical education before the age of 12 had a better memory for the spoken word than those who were not musically influenced.

Don't worry if you're inexperienced, musically. The latest in healthful music is called recreational music-making. Hospitals, health clinics, wellness centers, long-term care facilities, support groups, women's groups, men's groups, and even corporations are benefiting from uninhibited music-making that doesn't need to sound good as long as it feels good. The idea is to have fun and use the opportunity for self-expression and creativity. Toyota Motor Sales USA's corporate headquarters in Torrance, California, for example, has a Toyota Drum Room where Toyota associates "beat" their stress, and also build team spirit.

Whether it's to increase physical fitness, aid in healing, or simply to boost the enjoyment level of a workout, whatever your musical pleasure, it's sound advice to take advantage of the beneficial link between music and wellness.

See our fitness and workout music

Sandra Tonn is a registered holistic nutritionist, freelance writer, and natural health educator based in Vancouver, BC.