A past study from Brunel University London showed that music enhances performance and creates feel-good vibes—but the brain mechanisms associated with listening to music during exercise aren’t as well-known. In the past, scientists couldn’t be so sure about their study results, as the experiments were conducted in a lab and could very well reap different results outside of the lab. In a recent study, however, researchers used a portable electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring, which allowed them to measure brainwaves while participants performed real-life physical activity.

This study The Way You Make Me Feel: Psychological and cerebral responses to music during real-life physical activity,” which was published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, measured three types of brainwaves during exercise. Doing so allowed them to compare the brain’s “electrical feedback” while study participants exercised outdoors to either music, a podcast, or nothing at all. They ultimately found that music shuffles the brain’s electrical frequency, so to speak, and has several interesting effects: it causes a drop in focus, but enhances enjoyment by 28% more than silence and 13% more than a podcast.

The researchers of this current study were excited about the ability to more accurately measure effects of music on the brain during exercise, thanks to the EEG technology. “The EEG technology facilitated measurement during an ecologically-valid outdoor task, so we could finally explore the brain mechanisms that underlie the effects of music during real-life exercise situations,” Brunel psychophysiologist and lead author of the study Marcelo Bigliassi explained.

Study participants were tasked with walking 400m on an outdoor track (at their own pace) to either the song “Happy” by Pharell Williams, a TED Talk about cities, or nothing at all. Using psychological scales, the researchers measured how the subjects felt while walking, what grabbed and kept their attention, and how alert or how tired they felt. Meanwhile, EEG measurements tracked their brainwaves across different frequencies: lower-alpha, upper-alpha, sensorimotor rhythm, and beta.

The walkers proved to be distracted by the music, but were more satisfied and energetic while listening to the music compared with the TED Talk or listening to no soundtrack at all. Additionally, the Ted Talk did not affect the subjects’ perceptual responses—such as how tired, alert, or happy they were—but it made them enjoy the walk more than listening to nothing did. According to this study, this is due to the brain mechanisms behind these effects, which appear to be linked to a boost in beta frequencies in the frontal cortex of the brain.

Bigliassi says their findings suggest that listening to music during your workouts is a good idea—it may reduce your focus, but it will make for a more enjoyable workout, which is huge for people who aren’t fond of exercising. “We showed that music has the potential to increase beta waves and elicit a more positive emotional state. This can be capitalized upon during other forms of exercise and render a given activity more pleasurable. People who struggle to engage in physical activity programs should select appropriate pieces of music to exercise and see the way it makes you feel.”

Brunel University (2018, February 17). Brainwaves Show How Exercising to Music Bends Your Mind. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved February 17, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/exercise-music-8515/

Bigliassi, M., Karageorghis, C., Hoy, G. K., & Layne, G. S. (2018, February 3). The Way You Make Me Feel: Psychological and cerebral responses to music during real-life physical activity. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. Retrieved on February 20, 2018 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1469029217301425

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