The Science Behind Why Music Enhances Exercise


The next time you bring your headphones to the gym, you might be doing yourself a huge favor.

According to a study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences music may benefit individuals during exercise. The study, conducted by researchers Kathleen Martin Ginis and Matthew Stork, found that participants were more positive about their workouts if they listened to music during exercise.

“Newer research has established that as little as 10 minutes of intense HIIT, three times per week, can elicit meaningful health benefits,” said Stork, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus. “For busy people who may be reluctant to try HIIT for the first time, this research tells us that they can actually enjoy it, and they may be more likely to participate in HIIT again if they try it with music.”

HIIT, or high intensity interval training, cuts down on time by increasing the intensity of an exercise. Instead of a longer exercise at a continuous pace, HIIT allows for strenuous exercise with short breaks.

The researchers found that participants exposed to HIIT for the first time were not only positive about the exercise regimen, but had a positive attitude overall and enjoyed the sprint interval training exercises that were used.

“There has been a lot of discussion in the exercise and public policy worlds about how we can get people off the couch and meeting their minimum exercise requirements,” said Martin Ginis, professor of health and exercise sciences at UBC. “The use of HIIT may be a viable option to combat inactivity, but there is a concern that people may find HIIT unpleasant, deterring future participation.”

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends that traditional exercise should make up at least two and a half hours a week for adults from 18 to 64 years old.

Other studies conducted concerning music’s role in exercise have also found it to benefit participants. Research lead by Alexandra Lamont from Keele University in England found that listening to your favorite music could improve your enjoyment of competitive sports and improve performance as well.

“By playing their favorite tunes, we found that participants’ exertion levels reduced and their sense of being ‘in the zone’ increased, when compared to listening to no music at all. The greatest effects were found for music used during training,” Lamont said. “So, if you are a Rihanna fan, for example, putting on her latest album could boost your performance and reduce perceived effort during training and before competing.”

The study specifically looked at the effects of participants’ favorite music in relation to their performance. Stork said while they studied music’s effect, the study itself hopes to encourage HIIT and to determine if people are open to the type of exercise.

“Our research aims to learn more about people’s perceptions towards HIIT and ultimately determine if people can adhere to these types of exercises in the long term,”  Stork said. “With the introduction of HIIT exercise, people may not necessarily require the dreaded 150-minute weekly total.”