60-Second Mind

Music Helps You Work Harder

Physical labor is often made easier when accompanied by music. But is it merely listening to music that helps, or is it more motivating to participate in the music itself? Christie Nicholson reports

Music helps us get through hard, physical work. Think of the songs produced by soldiers marching or chain gangs building railroads.

But does simply hearing the music account for the effect? Or is there a bigger boost when the workers themselves make the music?

To find out, scientists had subjects exercise on a fitness machine under two conditions. In one trial, the volunteers just listened to music. In the second run, the machines were rigged to start playing music only when the participant began to move. And the pace at which the subject exercised determined the speed of the music.

Measurements of the participants’ oxygen intake and muscle tension showed that they actually expended less energy when they controlled the music. The participants also rated their perceived level of exertion as being lower when their actions dictated the sound. The study is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

So next time you’re working the elliptical at the gym, perhaps make your own music. You could simply sing along to whatever’s playing on the loudspeakers. Unless it’s Blurred Lines. Work it. Don’t twerk it.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]   

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