It’s a common sight—people exercising with earphones, listening to music on their iPods, MP3s or other personal music devices. Purists might not approve or like it, but there is no ignoring the fact that the music industry is targeting the active crowd in a very aggressive manner.
Tunes to perform to
In research published in the June issue of the Circulation journal, Luciano Bernardi, professor of internal medicine at Pavia University in Italy, concluded: “Music, particularly pieces that contain crescendos or gradual increases in volume, elicits synchronized cardiovascular and respiratory responses in young people... There is a continuous interaction between the music dynamics and our cardiovascular system, whether there are conscious emotions or not.”
So, if we know how, when and what kind of music to use, we can use it to help people perform better, starting from very sick patients needing cardiac rehabilitation to elite athletes out to win medals at the Olympics. Costas Karageorghis, a reader in sport psychology at Brunel University, UK, is an authority in this field. He acts as consultant psychologist to a number of international and professional athletes and has worked with a wide variety of UK governing bodies of sport (for example, UK Athletics, British Canoe Union, British Water Ski Federation and England Hockey). In research published last year in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, Dr Karageorghis studied the effects of music during a 10km cycling time trial. He found that participants cycled 1-1.25km per hour faster when music was introduced than when music was removed or no music was offered.
On 5 October 2008, London hosted its first official annual half marathon, called Run to the Beat. All through the route, musicians played inspiring motivational music specifically catered to the terrain of the course. How? For the first two editions (2008 and 2009), the music and songs were not picked randomly—the tempo of the music was dictated by Dr Karageorghis himself.
Choose well: Music lists affect exercise patterns.
Not any music will do
The converse holds true too, though. If there is a mismatch between the exercising intensity (heartbeats per minute) and musical style (beats per minute), it might cause deterioration in performance. To maximize performance levels, aligning high and low tempo music to your training programme as appropriate can be very effective—listen to up-tempo music at times of high intensity and low-tempo during recovery times.
The other problem, for some of us moving to the beat, is that we listen to music on our iPods and MP3s to block out unwanted background noises while exercising, be it the loud piped music in a gym or roaring traffic on the roads. Hearing and vertigo expert Kshitij Malik, founder of Prime Clinic, New Delhi, says: “Music, on the one hand, is food for the soul, but when played over a certain level, can produce permanent damage to the ears. (And then) at times, we find ourselves sitting way too close to the television, thinking that the volume is too low.” He goes on to say that 80% of people listen to music at levels which are harmful for their ears. And that can lead to loss of hearing, a sad outcome for any music lover.
Get the volume right
Just a few precautions can help avert this, though. Dr Malik says: “People can set their music to a comfortable and safe level, i.e., 75 decibels or below, when they are in a quiet situation. Apple Inc. could probably see this coming and included a feature of locking the volume limit on their music devices.”
For non-Mac music lovers, a very simple solution is to use in-ear earphones that partially block out background noise without extra technical support.
The author is a practitioner of sports and exercise medicine and musculoskeletal medicine, and CEO of Back 2 Fitness.
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