Why Exercising to Up Beat Music May Help You Exercise Better

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By : Suvarna Sheth

Do you find it easier to exercise when you listen to invigorating music? Now, new research from Canada may be able to back that up.

Researchers have found the right music can help less-active people get more out of their workout, and enjoy it more.

It’s been known that high-intensity interval training (HIIT)–brief, repeated bouts of intense exercise separated by periods of rest–has been shown to improve physical health over several weeks of training.

However, Dr. Matthew Stork, author of the study, and a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus says HIIT can be grueling for many people, especially those who are less active.

“While HIIT is time-efficient and can elicit meaningful health benefits among adults who are insufficiently active, one major drawback is that people may find it to be unpleasant,” Stork says. “As a result, this has the potential to discourage continued participation.”

Previous research led by Stork and UBC Okanagan’s Kathleen Martin Ginis has examined the effects of music during HIIT with recreationally-active people.

Their latest study tested the effects of music with participants who were insufficiently-active, used a more rigorous music selection process and implemented a HIIT regimen that is more practical for less-active adults.

How was the Study Conducted?

The study took place at Brunel University London and Stork worked with Professor Costas Karageorghis, a world-renowned researcher who studies the effects music has on sport and exercise.

First, Stork gathered a panel of British adults to rate the motivational qualities of 16 fast-tempo songs. The three songs with the highest motivational ratings were used for the study.

“Music is typically used as a dissociative strategy. This means that it can draw your attention away from the body’s physiological responses to exercise such as increased heart rate or sore muscles,” says Stork. “But with high-intensity exercise, it seems that music is most effective when it has a fast tempo and is highly motivational.”

Next, a separate group of 24 participants completed a “one-minute workout” which consisted of three 20-second all-out sprints, totaling 60 seconds of hard work.

A short rest separated the sprints, for a total exercise period of 10 minutes including a warm-up and cool-down. Participants completed these HIIT sessions under three different conditions–with motivational music, no audio or a podcast that was devoid of music.

Stork tells dLife the current study did not specifically investigate whether acute psychological and physiological responses to HIIT subsequently led to increased HIIT participation or predicted future HIIT behavior.

“However, there is substantial research evidence to show that those who intend to participate in exercise because they enjoy it are more likely to sustain their intentions to exercise and carry out their intended exercise behavior.”

Based on this notion, Stork says it’s possible that since people who are insufficiently active are more likely to enjoy HIIT while listening to music, they may be more likely to engage in or adhere to, HIIT again in the future.

What were the Findings?

Participants reported greater enjoyment of HIIT. They also exhibited elevated heart rates and peak power in the session with music compared to the no-audio and podcast sessions.

“The more I look into this, the more I am surprised,” Stork admits. “We believed that motivational music would help people enjoy exercise more, but we were surprised about the elevated heart rate. That was a novel finding.”

Stork believes the elevated heart rates may be explained by a phenomenon called “entrainment.”

“Humans have an innate tendency to alter the frequency of their biological rhythms toward that of musical rhythms,” he explains. “In this case, fast-tempo music may have increased people’s heart rate during the exercise. It’s incredible how powerful music can be.”

Based on the findings from this study, Stork says the application of motivational music during interval exercise may be a practical strategy that can be recommended to individuals who are struggling to exercise.

“In particular, music can help such individuals get more out of their workout physically, while also enjoying it more,” he says. “As a result, music may subsequently encourage continued participation in interval-type exercise.”

Can This Help Those with Diabetes?

As we know, diet and exercise are two key lifestyle behaviors that can substantially influence an individuals’ risk for developing diabetes and/or obesity.

“In particular, exercise has been shown to reduce the progression and risk of developing Type 2 diabetes or obesity,” Stork says.
“There is also evidence that HIIT may be a viable option for individuals living with, or at risk for, developing Type 2 diabetes or obesity.”

So, he says it is possible that these findings can also be translated to individuals living with such health issues; but he notes that because the current study was not conducted among a sample of individuals with health issues such as diabetes or obesity, this can’t be verified based solely on this study/the current findings alone.

“However, if music can help less active people have more positive exercise experience, it may be able to do the same for those living with health issues who are also less active,” he concludes.

The study has been published in the journal, Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

Stork received financial support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research over the course of this project.


  1. University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus. (2019, June 20). UBC research shows upbeat music can sweeten tough exercise. EurekAlert! Retrieved July 15, 2019, from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-06/uobc-urs061919.php