Why exercising to your favourite playlist is a good idea

Good music can greatly complement a workout, which is why leading gyms employ experts to curate their playlists according to the time of day and type of workout

Shrenik Avlani
First Published13 May 2024
Exercise and music also go hand-in-hand because music can affect one’s rhythm and tempo.
Exercise and music also go hand-in-hand because music can affect one’s rhythm and tempo.(Unsplash/Juan Pablo Rodriguez)

For William Shakespeare, the world’s most famous playwright, music was the food of love. If he’d ever enter a gym today, he would also probably add that music is the fuel for exercise. Just look at anyone from Olympic athletes to tennis stars like Iga Swiatek to common folk who work out with you, every other person is spotted with headphones or AirPods to get in the zone for their training. This is in addition to the music that most gyms play in the background all day long. Music plays an important role in modern day exercise and training.

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“Music can influence our tempo, energy and mood, all of which have a direct bearing on how we exercise by helping us stay motivated, focused and engaged. Music also helps distract us from the fatigue that any physical activity invariably leads to. I think exercising with music really took off with the introduction of Sony Walkman, which made it possible for us to listen to personal music,” says Dr. Parth Nagda, consultant for psychiatry at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Navi Mumbai.

Acknowledging that music has been found to exert positive effects on physical activity, authors of the 2020 study titled, Effects of Music in Exercise and Sport: A Meta-Analytic Review, attempted to quantify the effects of listening to music in exercise and sport. They found that music was associated with significant beneficial effects on physical performance, perceived exertion and oxygen consumption while it had no significant impact on one’s heart rate. The study concluded that listening to music before or during physical activity offers potential benefits for exercisers and athletes. Music has the capacity to enhance enjoyment, improve physical performance, reduce perceived exertion, and benefit physiological efficiency across a range of physical activities, say the study’s researchers. 

Cult Fit fitness expert Spoorthi S concurs with the study’s conclusions, highlighting the fact that listening to music can be beneficial while working out. “Some of the hardest workouts can be completed with music because it increases mental toughness and endurance, lessens perceived exertion, and helps you gauge your energy levels,” she says. 

Music can enhance workout by improving mood, providing motivation and also helping you push yourself a little more while exercising, adds Nagda. Exercise and music also go hand-in-hand because music can affect one’s rhythm and tempo. “Happy music is good for high-intensity exercises like cardio or interval training because it can raise heart rate and intensity. Slower, more rhythmic, music can assist people in keeping a constant pace when engaging in endurance activities like cycling or running. Moreover, listening to good music while exercising can profoundly affect how you exercise, and ultimately, how you are feeling while exercising,” explains Spoorthi. 

Music is so intricately linked to all forms of exercise and sport that even those who don’t actively listen to music end up being affected by it without knowing it. There are thousands of runners who prefer not to use any music in their races. However, they swap their headphones and playlist for the rhythm of runners’ feet hitting the tarmac, which is nothing but the music of the running world. Even these runners report finding a shot of energy whenever they run past performers and DJ booths along a race route. 

Despite the scientifically proven fact that the magnitude of its effects on exercise and sports activities tends to be small, so central is music in the world of exercise that successful gyms often employ professionals and experts to curate their music and playlists based on time of day, kind of workout and other factors. Cult Fit, Spoorthi says, has a team that analyses the right music for different types of group classes as well as gym workouts, and music is curated to suit all. 

“There are several ways that music influences exercise. While slower music can help people relax and concentrate on deliberate, controlled movements during strength training or stretching, faster music can increase energy levels and motivate faster movements. A poorly chosen playlist or music that isn’t in sync with the workout’s tempo can cause boredom, distraction, or decreased motivation, which can ultimately have an impact on performance and commitment to the exercise regimen,” says Spoorthi. In order to get the best out of your workout, it is best to take 20-30 minutes to curate your playlist depending on the type of exercise you have planned. Nagda suggests creating two or three playlists with varying tempos and beats that would match your workout intensity. 

“Faster, higher energy music for intense cardio and calmer beats for cooldown, stretching or yoga will help. Sometimes, including songs with positive lyrics helps in motivation. Spending time with experimentation to see what works for you is the key to turning your workout into a long-lasting habit,” suggests Nagda.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

Also read: On a holiday? Head to the park for a group exercise

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