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New research clarifies why music and exercise make such a good team, and how to create an optimal workout playlist
By Ferris Jabr
“I dare them to find the iPod on me,” Richie Sais told the New York Times in 2007, when he was preparing to run the Marine Corps Marathon. USA Track & Field, the national governing body for distance racing, had just decided to ban athletes from using portable music players in order “to ensure safety and to prevent runners from having a competitive edge.” Rais resolved to hide his iPod shuffle under his shirt. Many fellow runners protested the new rule, which remains in effect today in an amended form: It now applies only to people vying for awards and money.
For some athletes and for many people who run, jog, cycle, lift weights and otherwise exercise, music is not superfluous—it is essential to peak performance and a satisfying workout. Although some people prefer audio books, podcasts or ambient sounds, many others depend on bumpin’ beats and stirring lyrics to keep themselves motivated when exercising. A quick Twitter search uncovers plenty of evidence: “Trying to let my phone charge a little more before I go, because lord knows I can’t even try and workout without music,” tweeted @Gianna_H21. “I just made my mom turn around to get my headphones. I can’t possibly work out without music,” @Codavoci_Kyle admitted.
In the last 10 years the body of research on workout music has swelled considerably, helping psychologists refine their ideas about why exercise and music are such an effective pairing for so many people as well as how music changes the body and mind during physical exertion. Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. When listening to music, people run farther, bike longer and swim faster than usual—often without realizing it. In a 2012 review of the research, Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London, one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, wrote that one could think of music as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”
Selecting the most effective workout music is not as simple as queuing up a series of fast, high-energy songs. One should also consider the memories, emotions and associations that different songs evoke. For some people, the extent to which they identify with the singer’s emotional state and viewpoint determines how motivated they feel. And, in some cases, the rhythms of the underlying melody may not be as important as the cadence of the lyrics. In recent years some researchers and companies have experimented with new ways to motivate exercisers through their ears, such as a smartphone app that guides the listener’s escape from zombies in a postapocalyptic world and a device that selects songs based on a runner’s heart rate.
Let your body move to the music
Research on the interplay of music and exercise dates to at least 1911, when American investigator Leonard Ayres found that cyclists pedaled faster while a band was playing than when it was silent. Since then psychologists have conducted around a hundred studies on the way music changes people’s performance in a variety of physical activities, ranging in intensity from strolling to sprinting. Looking at the research as a whole, a few clear conclusions emerge.
Two of the most important qualities of workout music are tempo—or speed—and what psychologists call rhythm response, which is more or less how much a song makes you want to boogie. Most people have an instinct to synchronize their movements and expressions with music—to nod their heads, tap their toes or break out in dance—even if they repress that instinct in many situations. What type of music excites this instinct varies from culture to culture and from person to person. To make some broad generalizations, fast songs with strong beats are particularly stimulating, so they fill most people’s workout playlists. In a recent survey of 184 college students, for example, the most popular types of exercise music were hip-hop (27.7 percent), rock (24 percent) and pop (20.3 percent).
Some psychologists have suggested that people have an innate preference for rhythms at a frequency of two hertz, which is equivalent to 120 beats per minute (bpm), or two beats per second. When asked to tap their fingers or walk, many people unconsciously settle into a rhythm of 120 bpm. And an analysis of more than 74,000 popular songs produced between 1960 and 1990 found that 120 bpm was the most prevalent pulse.
When running on a treadmill, however, most people seem to favor music around 160 bpm. Web sites and smartphone apps such as Songza and jog.fm help people match the tempo of their workout music to their running pace, recommending songs as fast as 180 bpm for a seven-minute mile, for example. But the most recent research suggests that a ceiling effect occurs around 145 bpm: anything higher does not seem to contribute much additional motivation. On occasion, the speed and flow of the lyrics supersede the underlying beat: some people work out to rap songs, for example, with dense, swiftly spoken lyrics overlaid on a relatively mellow melody.
Although many people do not feel the need to run or move in exact time with their workout music, synchrony may help the body use energy more efficiently. When moving rhythmically to a beat, the body may not have to make as many adjustments to coordinated movements as it would without regular external cues. In a 2012 study by C. J. Bacon of Sheffield Hallam University, Karageorghis and their colleagues, participants who cycled in time to music required 7 percent less oxygen to do the same work as cyclists who did not synchronize their movements with background music. Music, it seems, can function as a metronome, helping someone maintain a steady pace, reducing false steps and decreasing energy expenditure.
Extending this logic, Shahriar Nirjon of the University of Virginia and his colleagues devised a personal music player that attempts to sync music with a runner’s pace and heart rate. Accelerometers and a tiny microphone embedded in a pair of earbuds gauge the runner’s pace and record the pulsing of blood vessels. The device wirelessly transmits the data it collects via a smartphone to a remote computer that chooses the next song.
Recent research clarifies not only what type of music is best suited to a workout, but also how music encourages people to keep exercising. Distraction is one explanation. The human body is constantly monitoring itself. After a certain period of exercise—the exact duration varies from person to person—physical fatigue begins to set in. The body recognizes signs of extreme exertion—rising levels of lactate in the muscles, a thrumming heart, increased sweat production—and decides it needs a break. Music competes with this physiological feedback for the brain’s conscious attention. Similarly, music often changes people’s perception of their own effort throughout a workout: it seems easier to run those 10 miles or complete a few extra biceps curls when Beyoncé or Eminem is right there with you.
“Given that exercise is often tiresome, boring and arduous, anything that relieves those negative feelings would be welcome,” Karageorghis explains. The benefits of distraction are most pronounced during low- to moderate-intensity exercise. When up against high-intensity exercise, music loses its power to override the physical feelings of tiredness, but it can still change the way people respond to that fatigue. The right music elevates mood and persuades people to ride out waves of exhaustion, rather than giving up. Karageorghis cautions, though, against listening to music while running in heavily trafficked areas—distraction from fatigue is great, as long as it does not put you in danger.
Music also increases endurance by keeping people awash in strong emotions. Listening to music is often an incredibly pleasurable experience and certain songs open the mental floodgates with which people control their emotions in everyday situations. If one strongly identifies with the singer’s emotions or perspective, the song becomes all the more motivational.
Consider a song from someone’s favorite musical film or Broadway show, such as “One Day More” from Les Misérables—an ensemble song with a complex melody and building energy—or “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, in which Elphaba, a central character, vows to overcome all limits others have imposed on her. In addition to exhilarating melodies and vocals, such songs immediately recall the entire milieu of the performance and awaken memories of particular characters who are part of a complex narrative. This mesh of associations and connotations woven into the music provides not just a inspiring perspective to adopt, but also an entire alternate reality to enter while running in place on a treadmill at the gym. Some game designers have experimented with new ways for people to escape into fictional worlds while running. In 2012 the online game company Six to Start released the immersive running game, Zombies, Run!, in the form of a smartphone app that narrates the listener’s quest to survive the zombie apocalypse. Following spoken prompts, the listener imagines him or herself running around to collect ammunition and medicine to complete various missions.
Whether music or zombie sound effects, what people listen to for motivation when they exercise acts on the same neural circuitry. “We are almost hardwired to appreciate music aesthetically,” Karageorghis says. People’s emotional response to music is visceral: It is, in part, ingrained in some of the oldest regions of the brain in terms of evolutionary history, rather than in the large wrinkly human cortex that evolved more recently. One patient—a woman known in the research literature as I. R.—exemplifies this primal response. I. R. has lesions to her auditory cortices, the regions of the cortex that process sound. When I. R. hears the normal version of a song and a horribly detuned version, she cannot tell the difference, explains Jessica Grahn, a cognitive neuroscientist who studies music at Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute in Ontario. But when I. R. hears a happy song and a sad song, she immediately distinguishes them from one another.
Scientists now know that, although different regions of the human brain specialize in processing different senses—sound, sight, touch—the brain uses the information it receives from one sense to help it understand another. What people see and feel while listening to speech or music, for example, changes what they hear. Music and movement are particularly entangled in the brain. Recent studies suggest that—even if someone is sitting perfectly still—listening to enjoyable music increases electrical activity in various regions of the brain important for coordinating movements, including the supplementary motor area, cerebellum, basal ganglia and ventral premotor cortex. Some researchers think that this neural crosstalk underlies people’s instinct to move in time to music. “We have also known for decades that there are direct connections from auditory neurons to motor neurons,” explains Grahn, who enjoys working out to cheesy techno-music. “When you hear a loud noise, you jump before you have even processed what it is. That’s a reflex circuit, and it turns out that it can also be active for non-startling sounds, such as music.”
In fact, the human brain may have evolved with the expectation that, wherever there is music, there is movement—although this idea emerges more from the imaginative minds of speculating evolutionary psychologists than from experimental evidence. Before the invention of reed flutes and other musical instruments, our ancestors likely produced the earliest forms of music by singing, screaming, chanting or otherwise using their vocal cords, as well as by physically interacting with their own bodies, other people and the environment. A fast tempo would have likely required fast movements: quick clapping or foot stamping, perhaps. Deep, loud sounds would have demanded great energy and force—belting a note or beating the ground or a rock. In its conception, music was likely an extension of the human body. Maybe the brain remembers it that way.
The Best Definition of Success Is the One You Never Use
March 14, 2013
By: Jeff Haden
Forget kaleidoscopes, forget people are like snowflakes, forget we’re all individuals (bonus points if you got the last reference without following the link.)
There is only one real way to define success.
Granted success in business and in life means different things to different people, and should mean different things to different people. Whether or not you feel successful depends on how you define success — and on the tradeoffs you are willing to not just accept but embrace as you pursue your individual definition of success.
Still. Determining whether you are successful is based on answering one question: How happy am I?
Your level of success is based solely on your answer to that question.
How Happy Are You?
Extremely successful people — at least in terms of how “success” is typically measured — tend to work impossibly long hours as they focus almost exclusively on building their careers or businesses. In many cases (some would argue most cases) their personal and family lives are to some degree a casualty of that focus.
Is that a fair tradeoff?
Fair or unfair is beside the point, because tradeoffs are unavoidable.
If you’re making serious money but are unhappy on a personal level, you haven’t embraced the fact that incredible business success often takes a heavy toll on relationships. Other things are clearly important to you besides just making money.
If on the other hand you leave every day at 4 you can pursue a rich and varied personal life yet you’re unhappy on a material level, you haven’t embraced the fact — and it is a fact — that the profession you’ve chosen and the way you’ve chosen to pursue it will not make you wealthy. Personal satisfaction is nice, but for you it’s not enough.
That’s because your profession, your family and friends, your personal pursuits… no aspect of your life can (or should) ever be separated from the others. Each is a permanent part of a whole. Putting more focus on one area automatically reduces the focus on another area
Want to make more money? You can, but something else has to give.
Want more time with family? Want to help others? Want to pursue a hobby? You can, but something else has to give.
Think about what motivates you. What do you want to achieve for yourself and your family? What do you value most, spiritually, emotionally, and materially? Those are the things that will make you happy, and if you aren’t doing them you won’t be happy.
Sounds simplistic… but think of all the people you know who complain about the results of a path they purposely chose to follow. For example, a friend of mine constantly complains about his salary. He feels his pay doesn’t reflect his education and experience and in no way recognizes his true value to society.
While I agree, there’s a problem: He’s a teacher. You know what teachers make. He knows what teachers make. He knew before he went to college what the average teacher makes. Fair or unfair, his income is almost exactly what he knew it would be.
Still, it drives him crazy and he spends a ton of emotional energy on the subject. So occasionally I say, “If feeling underpaid bothers you this much, I think you owe it to yourself to do something different.”
“But I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love teaching!” he always replies.
“Yeah, but not enough,” I always think. If he truly loved teaching he could better accept the inevitable — and it is inevitable — financial trade-off.
So, Are You Happy?
Defining success is important, but taking a clear-eyed look at the impact of your definition matters even more. As in most things your intent is important but the results provide the real answers.
If helping others through social work is your definition of success, you may make a decent living but you won’t get rich… and you must embrace that fact. If you’re happy, you have.
If building a $100 million company is your definition of success, you can have a family but it will be almost impossible to have a rich, engaged family life… and you must embrace that fact. If you’re happy, you have.
So forget traditional definitions of success. Forget what other people think. Ask yourself if you feel happy — not just at work, not just at home, not just in those fleeting moments when you do something just for yourself, but overall.
If you are, you’re successful. The happier you are the more successful you are.
If you aren’t happy it’s time to rethink how you define success, and start making changes to your professional and personal life that align with that definition, because what you’re doing now isn’t working for you.
And life is way too short for that.
16 Inspirational Quotes To Help Make Your Dream Life A Reality
By Silvia Mordini
Spending time dreaming is not the waste of time some would have you believe. Daydreaming, more than anything else, can stoke your creative energy and amp you back up. It’s vital to your overall mental, emotional and physical health, and neuroscientists have found dreaming to be an important part of your cognitive wellbeing. A 2012 study published in Psychological Science by researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science suggests that a wandering mind correlates to higher degrees of what is referred to as working memory. This means dreaming might help us tap into creative problem-solving.
Apathy and complacency are the real enemies of love. They sneak up on us like small leaks in a boat and drain our imagination until we lose all motivation to keep growing. We’ve all fallen into this chasm of downward energy, but it’s vital to continue dreaming and acting on dreams to develop as human beings.
Recommit to letting your mind explore new possibilities by conceptualizing your biggest dreams and acting on them within the next 24 hours. Here are 16 quotes that will inspire you to live your dream life.
“Dreams are necessary to life.” – Anais Nin
“All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all mankind together.” – Jack Kerouac
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” – Harriet Tubman
“As long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Dream and give yourself permission to envision a You that you choose to be.” – Joy Page
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask, why? I dream of things that never were, and ask, why not?” – Robert Kennedy
“All men of action are dreamers.” – James Huneker
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!” – Goethe
“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” – Colin Powell
“Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.” – Anais Nin
“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” – Jesse Owens
“If you take responsibility for yourself you will develop a hunger to accomplish your dreams.” – Les Brown
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau
“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” – Anatole France
10 Reasons You Should Always Laugh Out Loud
By Louise Jensen
I watched a silly movie last week with my seven-year-old son. At one point he was rolling around the carpet, clutching his stomach while tears of laughter rolled down his bright red face.
By comparison, I went to the cinema last night to see a new comedy with my partner. I found one part really funny but noticed when I started laughing out loud that I immediately toned it down. Looking around, I could see I wasn’t the only one stifling my natural urge to exude a huge belly laugh. My fear of drawing attention to myself sadly outweighed my natural instinct to noisily share my happiness.
I am not sure when I lost the ability to unselfconsciously roar with laughter, but now that I’m aware of it, I’m claiming it right back. To be able to express pure joy without any inhibitions is not only our birthright, it’s also darned good for us. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. Laughter releases feel-good endorphins into your system, which can help to relieve pain.
2. Laughter contracts your abdominal muscles and gets your shoulders moving giving you a mini-workout.
3. Laughter increases blood flow and improves the function of blood vessels, which can help protect the heart.
4. Laughter has a relaxing effect on the whole body for up to 45 minutes afterwards.
5. Laughter initially raises blood pressure, then reduces it, leaving a lower blood pressure than normal.
6. Laughter can be contagious, increasing happiness and intimacy, thus enhancing relationships.
7. Laughter speeds up metabolism and heart rate, which could help you lose weight.
8. Laughter expels more air than normal breathing, which has a cleansing effect on the lungs.
9. Laughter reduces anxiety and helps relieve depression by reducing stress and releasing pent-up tension.
10. Laughter increases the number of T-cells in your body, giving your immune system a boost.
Wow. Next time I won’t be afraid to publicly acknowledge my amusement!
20 Iconic Quotes On Failure That Will Inspire You To Succeed
By Zoë B
If Thomas Edison had believed in failure… we would still be living in darkness. If Henry Ford had given up, we would still be riding on horseback…if Alexander Graham Bell had given in to the clutches of failure, we would be spending less time staring at those small plastic things we call phones that rule our lives (which might not be a bad thing!).
On a serious note – anyone who has achieved ANYTHING great, anyone who has CHANGED THE WORLD has at some point made a choice to embrace failure instead of fighting it.
If you look at the most inspirational innovators, athletes, geniuses, and icons throughout history, they all shared a common belief – they simply did not entertain the notion of failure as a bad thing.
Instead, they understood that every failure encountered brings you one step closer to success, and that this is a natural part of the process. Some even enjoyed failure!
If you think about it, failure is just feedback; it’s simply showing you what’s not working so you can find out what will work. It’s necessary and can’t be avoided.
If we didn’t have failure, how would we know what to do next? The process of learning from our mistakes is truly invaluable, and is something we need to run toward, not run away from.
Below are a selection of quotes on the topic of failure from 20 iconic people, each of whom has achieved something great and is talking from his or her own unique experience.
Today, let’s celebrate these wonderful souls who chose to embrace failure with open arms. Maybe, just maybe, their words of wisdom will help us to do the same.
1. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison
2. “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
3. “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” – Henry Ford
4. “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Confucious
5. “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” – Bill Cosby
6. “Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” – Dale Carnegie
7. “Failure is success if we learn from it.” – Malcolm Forbes
8. “I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustrations were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy.” – Tony Robbins
9. “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” – Colin Powell
10. “It is fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates
11. “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of a greater or equal benefit.” – Napoleon Hill
12. “Like success, failure is many things to many people. With Positive Mental Attitude, failure is a learning experience, a rung on the ladder, a plateau at which to get your thoughts in order and prepare to try again.” – W. Clement Stone
13. “The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.” – Buddha
14. “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with failure.” – Abraham Lincoln
15. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. It’s ok to fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing.” – H. Stanley Judd
16. “Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failing is another steppingstone to greatness.” – Oprah Winfrey
17. “Remember that failure is an event, not a person.” – Zig Ziglar
18. “Failure after long perseverance is much grander than never to have a striving good enough to be called a failure.” – George Eliot
19. “Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” – J.K. Rowling
20. “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
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