Exercise can be made more enjoyable with the right soundtrack, UBC Okanagan researcher says. (Files)

Fast music can lead to a better workout: UBC Okanagan researcher

Upbeat tunes can make HIIT exercise more enjoyable, easier for less-active individuals

The right soundtrack could be key to the best workout, UBC Okanagan researchers found. Even for people who are insufficiently active.

Matthew Stork, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, published a study showing music can help less-active people get more out of their workouts while boosting their enjoyment of it.

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, as it’s known, involves repeated bursts of intense exercise split up by short rest breaks. This form of exercise has been shown to improve physical health over several weeks of training, but can be perceived by exercisers as gruelling work.

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“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 said. “As a result, this has the potential to discourage continued participation.”

Stork worked with Prof. Costas Karageorghis—a world-renowned researcher who studies the effects of music on sport and exercise—to conduct the study at Brunel University London.

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Stork gathered a panel of British adults to rate the motivational qualities of 16 fast-tempo songs. Three songs with the highest motivational ratings were used in the study.

“Music is typically used as a dissociative strategy,” he said. “This means that it can draw your attention away from the body’s physiological responses to exercise such as increased heart rate and sore muscles.

“But, with high-intensity exercise, it seems that music is most effective when it has a fast tempo and is highly motivational,” Stork said.

Twenty-four subjects were put through the “one-minute workout” comprised of three 20-second sprints totalling 60 seconds. A short break separated each sprint for a total of 10 minutes with a warm-up and cool down. Each subject conducted the regimen with music, without music and while listening to a podcast.

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

That elevated heartbeat, Stork said, could 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 said. “In this case, the fast-tempo music may have increased people’s heart rate during the exercise.

“It’s incredible how powerful music can be.”

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This is good news for those struggling with working out, as Stork’s findings show music can help individuals work harder physically during HIIT while making it more enjoyable.

“Music can be a practical strategy to help insufficiently active people get more out of their HIIT workouts and may even encourage continued participation,” Stork said.

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