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Music and Fitness ⁄ Effects of Music on Exercise

Music and Fitness / Effects of Music on Exercise

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We are all familiar with the visuals of the famous Kerala boat races or Vallamkali. The long snake-like boats seat approximately 100 rowers and in the midst of the rowers, there are nearly 25 singers, who sing rhythmic songs that encourage the rowers to increase the rowing pace. It is a race that involves stamina, energy, an adrenergic rush, which is all set to the tones of the music beats. This is an example of entrainment or synchronization, where the tempo or speed of the music influences the energy and the physical performance of an individual. Today, we have different workout routines, for example, zumba, pilates, step, yoga, among others that are set to music with different tempi. Music has been shown to have a positive effect on physical exercise and is known to have an impact at the psychological level. Similarly, it has been observed that physically fit and active musicians provide better musical performances. Hence, music and fitness complement each other.

Music and Fitness / Effects of Music on Exercise

Factors affecting the relationship of music and exercise

  • Personality of an individual: An extrovert prefers stimulating music that enhances the exercise rate.
  • Age: Choice of music depends on the age of the individual.
  • Commitment to exercise: Music can influence a person’s commitment to physical activity. Sedentary individuals or infrequent exercisers may improve their exercise routine due to music.
  • Gender: Females are more likely to experience a better exercise potential based on the motivational music used.
Music and Exercise for Females
  • Exercise regimen: Individuals may be influenced by the type of exercise regimen and the situation involved.

Classifying the effects of music on exercise

An initial framework that was developed by the renowned expert on music and exercise, Dr. Karageorghis, consisted of a 4–tier structure based on the type of music.

Rhythm response: This depicts the effect of the tempo of music or the rhythm of music on physical activity.

Musicality: This indicates the melody and the harmonious synchronisation of notes to create the music.

Culturality: This refers to the effect of music within a society or community.

Association: The associations that can be made with factors other than music.


The most important aspect of music is the rhythm response that influences the energy potential of the individual. In 2006, the framework was modified to indicate the effect of appropriately selected music for the type of physical activity that is performed. The productivity of work was enhanced when the appropriate music was played for the occasion. In other words, music demonstrated an ergogenic effect on the lines of a drug that improves the performance of an athlete.

The different aspects of music on exercise include the psychophysiological, psychophysical, and pyschological effects.

Psychological effects: These effects can be subdivided into the psychophysiological and psychophysical effects. Pyschological effects are mainly the effects of music on the feelings (eg, sadness, pain, happiness), behavior, emotions, and the processes of cognition in an individual. To this effect, a recent study showed that obese adolescents (age range 12-17 years), who were subjected to an aerobic regimen, showed an improvement in their academic performance, social skills, and an enhanced self-image. This improvement was observed when the aerobic exercise was performed to the accompaniment of music as compared with video games.

Psychological Effects: Aerobic exercise

Pyschophysiological effects: These include increase in heart rate or decrease in blood pressure. A study by Madison G et al. has shown that aerobic exercise with the help of music improved the health of sedentary individuals. These individuals experienced a reduction in blood pressure and an increased intake of oxygen. There was an increase in the physical energy levels and the individuals felt a motivation to maintain the exercise-music regimen.


Psychophysical effects: These include the individual’s estimation of physical exertion during the exercise process. This can be measured with the RPE scale (Borg’s Ratings of Perceived Exertion). A study on the effect of exercise and music on elderly women demonstrated that there was a significant difference in the RPE scale in women who exercised with music as compared with the absence of music. Women who exercised with music perceived a reduced level of exertion. The women in the study were those who had not exercised previously.

Benefits of Music

Music tends to soothe a troubled soul. It has a rejuvenating effect and can make an individual forget his fatigue. These are not words of fiction but facts that have been analyzed and reported. Music has been shown to improve the exercise performance in individuals based on the tempo of the music. There are other benefits of music. They are listed below:

  • Relieves stress: Exercises such as yoga that is performed in the presence of soothing music aids in reducing the stress levels in an individual.
Relieves Stress: Yoga
  • Enhances mood: Music can improve the mood of the individuals leaving them with a positive feeling at the end of the exercise. However, this effect has been observed only in individuals, who are not trained in physical fitness. Individuals, who are trained athletes are not influenced in a major way by music. This may be due to the focus of the trained individuals on achieving their intended goals, such as the number of calories burnt for the day, the speed attained, or the maximum limit of physical endurance achieved.
  • Improves endurance: Music has been shown to push individuals to complete their gruelling exercise regimen without perceiving the actual strain involved. A study observed that individuals, who trained without motivational music displayed a lower level of physical endurance as compared with those who performed their exercise synchronously with motivational music. The quality of music also has an impact on the physical capability of the individual. There is a perception that the fatigue, though present, is milder in the presence of motivational music. The tempo of the music and the emotional effect that it has, also plays a major role in influencing the physical endurance of the individual during the exercise regimen.
  • Increases heart rate and neural activity: Based on the type of music, the electrical activity in the brain is stimulated. Fast music, motivational music with lyrics, music with percussion beats, all have an effect on the nerve network in the brain. Similarly, the physiologial effects on the body is measured with the heart rate (HR). Music is known to reduce the heart rate by relaxing the muscles. Although, fast-paced music increases the heart rate, the RPE levels do not increase. An analysis of the effect of music on the heart rate does not show a clear relationship. However, a positive increase in the heart rate is observed when the tempo of the music increases to 140 beats per minute (bpm). The heart rate then remains constant despite a subsequent increase in the music tempo.
  • Pre-task music exposure: Listening to music, prior to an exercise activity, has also been found to have a positive impact on individuals. It has been observed that individuals show a heightened level of exercise activity. There was also an increase in the rate at which exercise was performed. In a study on swimming performance, pre-task music improved the swimming time, while the fatigue levels remained unaltered between the groups, who listened or did not listen to music prior to the activity.
Pre-task music exposure: Swimming

Types of Music-related Exercises:

The following workouts are set to music.

  • Zumba
  • Pilates
  • Step
  • Qi Gong
  • Yoga

The effect of music is profound on our mental and physical well-being. Physical fitness is essential for the prolonged well-being of our bodies. The combination of music with fitness is a potent combination that promises a wealth of benefits for our physical and mental health.


  1. Karageorghis CI & Priest DL. Music in the exercise domain: a review and synthesis (Part I). Int Rev Sport Exerc Psychol. 2012;5(1):44-66.
  2. Karageorghis CI, Terry PC, Lane AM. Development and initial validation of an instrument to assess the motivational qualities of music in exercise and sport: the Brunel Music Rating Inventory. J Sports Sci. 1999; 17(9):713-24.
  3. ACE-sponsored Research: Exploring the Effects of Music on Exercise Intensity - (https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/805/)
  4. Wasley D et al. Influence of fitness and physical activity on cardiovascualr reactivity to musical performance. Work. 2012;41(1):27-32.
  5. Terry PC, Karageorghis CI. Psychophysical effects of music in sport and exercise: An update on theory, research and application. In: Katsikitis M., editor. Proceedings of the 2006 Joint Conference of the APS and the NZPS. Melbourne, VIC: Australian Psychological Society; 2006;415–419.
  6. Madison G, Paulin G, Aasa U. Physical and psychological effects from supervised aerobic exercise. Am J Health Behav. 2013;37(6):780-93.
  7. Goldfield GS et al. The effects of aerobic exercise on psychosocial functioning of adolescents who are overweight or obese. J Pediatr Psychol. 2012;37(10):1136-47.
  8. Ruscello B et al. The influence of music on exercise in a group of sedentary elderly women: an important tool to help the elderly to stay active. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2014;54(4):536-44.
  9. Thakur AM, Yardi SS. Effect of different types of music on exercise performance in normal individuals. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2013; 57(4):448-51.
  10. Fritz TH et al. Musical feedback during exercise machine workout enhances mood. Front Psychol. 2013;4:921.
  11. 7 Reasons You Should Listen To Music When You Work Out - (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/01/why-exercise-workout-music-playlist_n_4173931.html)
  12. Birnbaum L, Boone T, Huschle B. Cardiovascular responses to music tempo during steady-state exercise. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online. 2009;12:50–57.
  13. Smirmaul BP et al. Pre-task music improves swimming performance. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2014. [Epub ahead of print]

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