I found this fantastic article in The NYTimes about a study done recently that shows that humans may be able to exert more muscular force during physical activity when that activity is accompanied by music. Researchers hooked up their test subjects to exercise machines that simulated musical sounds in sync with the movements of the subjects – and their findings were incredibly interesting. Not only were those tested able to perform better on these musical machines, they also found the physical activities to be less strenuous.
This whole concept reminded me of my 24 year old daughter Mariella, who has been a drummer for over 15 years and plays in a heavy rock band called Kings And Liars from Connecticut. Mariella is only 5’1 but hits her drums extremely hard during her live performances. Because of her tiny frame, I have always been captivated by her ability to play 30-40 minute sets of grueling, fast-paced songs which require a significant amount of stamina. While Mariella has always been somewhat athletic, she generally did not excel in the endurance column of fitness. As a child, she dreaded the “mile-long run” portion of her public school fitness tests, preferring more strength-oriented exercises that required less physical longevity. But when it comes to her live performances on drums – her endurance is seemingly endless. After showing her this article, Mariella was able to relate to the experiences of the test subjects in this study on music and exercise:
“When I play with my band, the rhythm and intensity of our music literally empowers me to accomplish physical tasks that would otherwise be unbearable to me. Hitting as hard as I do requires a lot of stamina – something I do not have, EXCEPT when I am playing drums. Often times I will finish a tune with my band during a live performance and be in a state of shock about how little breath I have left. The most bizarre part for me is that I am completely unaware of how hard I am pushing myself physically until the music stops – only then do I start huffing and puffing like I just ran a marathon. Playing drums is the ONLY instance for me personally in which I can display this kind of stamina. In any other circumstance, I don’t feel I would be able to physically accomplish a similar task.”
The name of the phenomenon my daughter is describing here is called: “Dissociation”. It is a mental diversion that lowers the perception of one’s physical effort during strenuous tasks. It can promote a positive mood and divert you from fatigue. Researchers believe that music is a strong catalyst for dissociation.
Hints for choosing your music: match the beat to your level of exercise. The fastest beat should match your target heart rate (220-your age x 0.85). Use slower relaxing music for warm up and cool down.
So moral of the story: If you find yourself unable to complete longer workouts or are looking for a way to motivate yourself to get fit, try listening to some of your favorite music!
For more information about our brain on music, I recommend checking out the book “Musicophilia” written by Oliver Sacks, M.D. Among other things, Sacks explains why songs become stuck in our head for days.
Here’s to hoping this gets you guys moving and dancing!