Diabetes Forecast

The Playlist's The Thing

By Carolyn Butler ,

Full disclosure: There's quite a lot of Britney Spears on my iPod.

Yes, my musical tastes typically run to classic rock and country, but when I head for the gym, suddenly I can't get enough of '80s hits like Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," hip-hop tunes like Kanye West's "Gold Digger," or just about anything by the aforementioned Miss Spears. For some reason, these songs just seem to help me stay on the elliptical machine a little longer, make the time pass faster, and leave me smiling—no matter how tired or achy—post-workout.

Turns out that there's some science behind this: New research from the Brunel University School of Sport and Education in England shows that rocking out during cardiovascular exercise can help improve results—from increasing physical endurance and motivation to distracting from negatives like fatigue. The study, published in the February 2009 Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, found that people who listened to specially selected rock or pop tunes by the likes of Queen, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Madonna while on the treadmill—music that was matched to their walking speed—upped their endurance by 15 percent and felt better about the workout than those who chugged along in silence.

Researchers also discovered that the right music can help exercisers feel more positive even when they are working out at a level that's close to physical exhaustion, says Brunel's Costas Karageorghis, PhD, an associate professor in sport psychology who has been studying the motivational qualities of music in sports for more than two decades. "The fact that music can still break through even in the midst of much pain and discomfort represents a departure from existing theory," he says.

Another plus: Exercising to a beat may also boost your brainpower. Scientists at Ohio State University recently studied cardiac rehabilitation patients who listened to Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" while walking on a treadmill for about 30 minutes. The results, published in Heart & Lung, showed that all of the participants felt better, both emotionally and mentally, after exercising. But when they listened to the classical composition, they had more than double the cognitive gains on a postexercise verbal fluency test than when they worked out in silence.

Of course, music preference is highly personal. So how can you create your own best playlist, one that will keep you moving and motivated for as long as possible? Karageorghis, who created the Brunel Music Rating Inventory, a questionnaire that is used to rate the motivational qualities of music for exercise, offers some tips for picking the right tunes:

  • Marry the music to your activity and the psychological effect you want to experience. For example, loud, fast, rhythmical, percussive, or bass-driven music is great for psyching yourself up before lifting heavy weights.
  • Consider the tempo and whether the speed of the music and its rhythm (the pattern of beats over time) are ideal for the speed of the activity you are performing and the heart rate you expect to reach.
  • Gauge your intensity: Generally speaking, you will need faster music if you are training at a higher intensity; a song with 130 to 150 beats per minute (BPM) is ideal for very intense exercise. You can even find software online that organizes your digital music library by BPM.
  • Find your rhythm with music that makes you want to move.
  • Check the lyrics for positive affirmations of exercise such as "work your body," "push it," or "run to the beat." Other positive statements such as "moving on up" or "I believe" can help you push yourself.
  • Listen for pleasure: Find a pleasing melody and harmony (a combination of notes played at the same time that shapes the emotional "color" of the music) that improves your mood. Generally speaking, major (happy) keys are more appropriate for exercise than minor (sad) keys.
  • Get psyched with music that makes you feel excited. Does it evoke a positive state of mind? Are you familiar with the music without finding it tiresome because you've heard it too often?

If you're looking for specific song suggestions, check out the box at left. And when in doubt, there's always the guiltiest soundtrack pleasure of them all: the theme song from Rocky. It never fails to pump me up at a particularly tough treadmill moment. (I mean, remember those stairs?) Others apparently find it inspiring too: Every year for the past three decades, a Brooklyn high school band has played the theme along the New York City Marathon route, encouraging runners to keep on trucking to the finish line. So grab your MP3 player or turn up your stereo and bop your way to an even better, happier workout.

Inspiration for Perspiration

One of the most important elements in choosing music for exercise, says Costas Karageorghis, PhD, is a song's tempo. It should range from about 120 to 140 beats per minute (BPM), a pace like that of most techno and dance music and many rock-and-roll songs. This pace is close to the typical person's heart rate during an everyday, casual workout—say, a long walk or easy jog.

Try the following playlist for low-intensity activities like walking or an easy bike ride. While Karageorghis selected the tracks based on expected heart rate and not on synchronizing your work-rate to the music, some people will be able to achieve both, which is an added bonus.

Track Title
The Way I Are
At the River
Groove Armada
Rihanna featuring Jay-Z
Don't Stop Movin'
S Club 7
Lose My Breath
Destiny's Child
Kool & The Gang
Livin' on a Prayer
Bon Jovi
I Like to Move It
Reel 2 Real featuring The Mad Stuntman
The Rhythm of the Night
Let Me Entertain You
Robbie Williams

If you're interested in a more intense aerobic workout like running long distances or cycling hills, try this playlist from Karageorghis, who helped plan the Sony Ericsson Run to the Beat half-marathon in London in September, which piped scientifically selected live music along the entire 17-mile course for some 12,500 participants.

Track Title
Don't Stop the Music
Give It 2 Me
Rise Up
Yves Larock
Let Me Think About It
Fedde le Grande featuring Ida Corr
Clothes Off!! (Josh Harris Remix)
Gym Class Heroes
Eric Prydz
World, Hold On (Children of the Sky)
Bob Sinclar
Angel in the Night



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