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Friday, November 8, 2013

Whistle while you work

Researchers from the Universities of Ghent and Leipzig and from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences have been investigating why music can make strenuous physical activities seem less exhausting. No one who brings their iPod along for a run will be surprised that listening to music can decrease the perception of exertion. What’s more controversial is that the scientists believe that there’s something specific about music that goes beyond merely being a distraction or motivator.

Sixty-three volunteers who were neither professional musicians nor athletes were asked to operate three different fitness machines (a tower, a stomach trainer and a stepper) while listening to music. Under condition A, the subjects could only listen passively to music while they worked out, but under condition B, the subjects could control the music with their movements on the machines. A force meter on the tower determined the amount of pressure participants were using and oxygen consumption determined how much aerobic energy they were expending.

First author Tom Fritz of the Max Planck Institute shows how it's done.

The subjects' perceived exertion levels were much lower under condition B even though they were actually applying more force. They also consumed less oxygen when in control of the music. Because the participants had to hold specific positions to make particular musical notes, the music couldn't have simply been distracting them from their efforts. They were able to exert more force even while concentrating on their muscles.

While this study confirms that music can be helpful during exercise and that actively making music is better than just listening, I’m not so sure this says anything special about music. I personally like to listen to audiobooks while I exercise. I’ll have to see if making up a story while I run will make the exercise even more palatable. 

More on this story at Only Human.

Fritz TH, Hardikar S, Demoucron M, Niessen M, Demey M, Giot O, Li Y, Haynes JD, Villringer A, & Leman M (2013). Musical agency reduces perceived exertion during strenuous physical performance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PMID: 24127588.

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