Running with music
Some of you may use it to exercise with musical accompaniment already but after the ipod (or walkman if you are as old as keith!) explosion there is no denying that music has become more portable, especially on the road. Is it a good idea? Avoiding the usual argument of music means you wont hear traffic and so will car fodder, there are some rather interesting scientific arguments behind the idea of exercising with music.
The man I really need to credit for the research and inspiration for this article is Dr Costas Karageorghis, from Brunel University's School of Sport and Education. He surmises* that music and cardiovascular exercise (when used in the correct manor) and improve effectiveness of even slow paces exercising. Science Daily suggest that "music increased exercise endurance by 15%". So job done it seems, music + exercise = good. Even if it is as simple as that there are a few more points to bear in mind.
Another strand of the argument is behavioural conditioning. In an article by Sam Carr, Dave Elliot and Dave Savage in the Hournal of Sport Behavior, Vol 27, 2004, they reasoned that "affective responses might exert and influence on indviduals intention to exercise". In english, if we can create a positive emotional response, one is more likely to repeat their behaviour (Godin, 1994). To help create this positive experience music can play a pivotal part, as Karageorghis noted in 1997 "music with clear associations to sport or physical activity may prove motivating".
One important argument here is that "not all exercise participants are motivated by music that is associated with sport" (Pruest et al., 2004). Much like gels work for some whereas others prefer sport beans, music may have little affect. My advice, get that ipod rammed up with power tunes and give it a go. I will discuss picking your tunes in a bit.
So the right kind of music can help during exercise, but can it make you more intelligent? Some new research has suggested that working out to music may give your brain a much needed boost. Charles Emery, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University, led a study of 33 men and women who were in the final weeks of a cardiac rehabilitation program. The results are somewhat interesting: "the improvement in verbal fluency test performance after listening to music was more than double that of the non-music condition" Emery concludes that "listening to music may influence cognitive function through different pathways in the brain. The combination of music and exercise may stimulate and increase cognitive arousal while helping to organise cognitive output". Instantly you can see that the study was only of 33 people, so you shouldn't take these findings as gospel. The music used was Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons", which may not be to the taste of everyone. It could be the case that the Vivaldi is able to stimulate the far reaches of your brain, but his influence on your exercise performance may not be as far reaching.
Is all this technology too much, music may not be turning you into Einstein after all! At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have been researching what happens to rats when they have a new experience, like exploring a new area, and they believe the finding may apply to human beings also: Loren Frank, the assistant professor said "almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences, and when the brain is constantly stimulated he believes you prevent the learning process". An equally interesting study out of the University of Michigan found that "people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that a a barrage of information isn't conducive to learning". What these studies are saying to me is that perhaps your better off by switching off, leaving all the noise at home and just exercising. We could end up in a slight catch-22 here. By removing the distractions we are giving ourselves more chance of learning and relaxing whistle exercising, but these distractions may be part of the reason we are exercising. So removing the distractions, the music, may not be beneficial at all!
You have decided you want to run with music, or to create a better running playlist, but how do you do this. All music has a bpm, or beats per minute. These beats need to be linked to you and your run. Dr. Costas says that "the most important element of a workout song is its tempo, which should be between 120 - 140 beats per minute." This is key because it reflects the tempo of the average person's heart beat during a typical treadmill routine. However, you may want to base your bpm on your steps per minute, so using music with a bmp of 170 - 180 or 85 - 95. This is based on the assumption you either take on step on each beat or two steps on each beat for the slower music. The problem with this is that 170 - 180 is a pretty intense beat. The aim is to get emotionally connected to the music, which means you are drawn in to the experience of the exercise and encorugaed to have fun, keep pace with rythms and beats of each song. Timing is also key, songs should have "a steady and forceful rhythm, try to avoid songs with sudden changes in time signature or intensity".
The difficult part is now finding out the bpm of your music library. There are a number of tools that will help you achieve this, my favourites are either tangerine (http://www.potionfactory.com/tangerine/)
for mac or BPM calculator (http://sourceforge.net/projects/bpmcalculator/)
for windows but find one's which you can use. A great website I have found is runningplaylist.net . It features pre created playlists and even has the bpm of some songs on there.