If you’re feeling demotivated and lacking enthusiasm for doing anything, nothing can pick you up like your favourite music! When nothing else works, listening to music can make us productive, spurring us on to tackling the task in hand with renewed vigour.
According to researchers, there’s a scientific reason why music can be beneficial, in terms of our brain and work, or other activities such as exercising. Studies have been continuing since the 1950s into how music can affect our brain and emotions. The benefits of music therapy were first noticed by physicians studying patients in hospitals in Europe and the United States in the ’50s.
However, music has been a kind of therapy for centuries, communicating feelings and thoughts to others, so it’s no surprise that it can be a means of boosting our emotions and making us more productive. Research shows that listening to music can help combat negative emotions including anxiety, stress and depression. It has even been proven to reduce delirium and confusion in elderly patients who are recuperating from surgery.
The scientific reason for this has been explored in an area of research called neuromusicology, which investigates why and how our nervous system responds to music. In simple terms, when music enters the inner ear, it will engage numerous areas of the brain, some of which are used for further cognitive functions.
Music is a non-verbal medium for communication and the brain reads it differently from non-musical sounds. A larger part of the brain is used to recognise and interpret music. This has led to many music therapy techniques such as guided listening being used in modern medicine to treat mental conditions, including depression and schizophrenia.
Research suggests that music can help improve productivity in the workplace. Employees who listen to music feel happier and subsequently they achieve improved creativity and efficiency. For employees working on tasks requiring focus and concentration, music without lyrics is preferred. Workers carrying out repetitive and mundane tasks benefit from music with lyrics, as they can provide a distraction from the monotony such jobs can cause.
A 1972 study published by Applied Ergonomics revealed employees carrying out repetitive jobs worked more efficiently while listening to music, while a 1994 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggested even surgeons’ efficiency improved when listening to gentle music in the operating theatre.
The benefits of listening to music can be transferred to keeping fit and working out, as it follows that it can help you get the results you require by boosting your mood and helping you to train more effectively. Music has the power to significantly alter your performance by changing your mind-set, or by causing a distraction from any discomfort or fatigue you may be feeling.
Certain soundtracks are more popular than others for working out. Eye of the Tiger, associated with the cult ‘Rocky’ boxing movies starring Sylvester Stallone, is a classic workout song, conjuring up an image of sporting success and prowess. Other favourites according to surveys include Good Feeling by Flo Rida, Salt N Pepa’s Push It, Eminem’s Till I Collapse, Daft Punk’s Harder Better Faster Stronger and Queen’s We Will Rock You.
Putting on a headset before a workout is commonplace for 75% of people who go jogging, as they find it beneficial, according to a survey conducted by Runners’ World. The reason is that it distracts them from what is described as “bodily awareness”, so you don’t notice as much if you’re getting fatigued and tend to train through it, rather than giving up.
A study of cyclists in 2010 revealed they worked harder when listening to fast music, rather than music with a slower beat. However, it’s important to get the tempo right: while too slow means you don’t work as hard, too fast isn’t much good either. Researchers say songs with a tempo between 120 and 140 beats per minute are best for moderate exercise.
A steady beat will help you keep to a steady pace, as the workout music’s rhythm will stimulate your brain’s motor area, prompting when you should move and assisting with self-paced exercise, such as running. Music puts you “in the zone” because we associate certain tunes with specific memories – as with the Rocky music, which conjures up an image of pounding the pavements and punching a punch bag.
Even the simple emotion of the singer can boost the power of the song to motivate you, improving your physical performance, regardless of whether it has any personal memories or associations. Everyone can harness the power of music when exercising – the secret is finding a playlist that suits your personal needs and using the driving force of music to power you on.
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