Medical Mysteries of Music

Published on August 26th, 2018 | by Alan Cross

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Do you exercise to music? Then read this.

In order to stave off the heart disease in my family’s genes, I’ve been visiting a personal trainer three times a week for the last year years. Knowing what will happen to my genetically pitiful bod if I stop going, I do my best to never, ever miss a session.

Each training session begins with the same question from my trainer: “What kind of music do you want?” My answer is always the same: “Doesn’t matter. I can’t hear anything above my heart pounding in my ears. Let’s just get this over with.”

This is apparently a mistake.

According to new research from Brunel University London, music can give your time spent exercising a big boost.

You’re probably already going “Duh. We’ve known this for a hundred years or more. Why is this news?”

True, but scientists still don’t know why music is good for concentration, reducing fatigue, and increasing endurance. It works, but why?

There’s been a breakthrough, thanks to experiments using fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy), EEG (electroencephalography), and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). From Psypost.org

In the study of 19 healthy adults, participants laid down in an MRI scanner and exercised using a hand strengthener grip ring. The participants executed 30 exercise sets, which each lasted for 10 minutes. During some of these sets, the participants listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine.

Bigliassi and his colleagues found that the presence of music was associated with greater excitement during exercise along with an increase in thoughts that were unrelated to the task. They also observed changes in a particular region of the brain.

“Music is a very powerful auditory stimulus and can be used to assuage negative bodily sensations that usually arise during exercise-related situations. This psychophysical response is triggered by an attentional mechanism that will ultimately result in a more efficacious control of the musculature,” Bigliassi told PsyPost.

“What we have identified in this study was that the left inferior frontal gyrus activates (see the Figure below) when individuals exercise in the presence of music. This region of the brain appears to be a hub of sensory integration, processing information from external and internal sources (e.g., music and limb discomfort, respectively).”

Oh. I see. Better keep reading.




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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.


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