Do you consider your earbuds as essential as your sneakers for a good workout? Research shows the playlist you pick — and whether you listen to music at all — can have a surprising effect on your workout.
THE DOWNSIDE OF MUSIC
Daniel Herman, MD, PhD, assistant professor and researcher at the Running Medicine Clinic and Sports Performance Center at the University of Florida, calls working out and listening to music a form of multi-tasking and notes, “You only have so much cognitive ability to maintain appropriate levels of attention to different tasks at once.”
Herman says studies consistently show attempting to do two things at once makes you less efficient in both tasks. During a workout, listening to music could distract you from adjusting your stride length or cadence to accommodate the terrain. In fact, Herman and colleagues presented research at the 2017 Association of Academic Physiatrists Annual Meeting that showed runners who listened to music during their runs were at greater risk for injuries.
The researchers measured how much the runners breathed per minute, the amount of energy expended, running rhythm, length of steps, speed and force on their bodies. Compared to running without distractions, those who ran with music exerted greater force, breathed heavier and had higher heart rates.
“Once attention is taken away from [running], their efficiency of gait deteriorates,” he explains.
THE UPSIDE OF MUSIC
Before you toss your earbuds aside, consider this: There is a glut of research highlighting the benefits of listening to music during a workout, including studies that show music helped exercisers achieve their workout goals, made their workouts more enjoyable and increased the amount of time spent exercising.
New research published in the International Journal of Physiology, Pathophysiology and Pharmacology found exercisers who listened to music worked out longer and had higher maximal heart rate values than those who did not listen to music during their gym sessions. The researchers noted that while music has the potential to be a distraction, it also has the power to encourage healthy lifestyles.
In 2012, the International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology published a review of the literature on the effect of music on exercise, noting music is most effective in self-paced workouts like running and the impact could be compared to “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”
While music can have a positive impact on your workout, Herman offers a word of caution about popping in ear buds before your next run. “I would advise running with more familiar music that matches your gait goals,” he says. You can find resources online that will put together playlists of songs with beats per minute in sync with the cadence you are looking at hitting.”
And think twice before hitting “play” on a podcast or audiobook. Herman believes the storyline could have a negative impact on your workout, explaining, “podcasts or an audiobook would likely require much more active attention to follow the discussion or story, which would potentially shunt cognitive resources away from monitoring your gait while running.”