Modern science may have found reason to put more meaning behind the idea that music is a powerful force.
Topping the list of senior wellness is exercise, a golden ticket that fights off diseases, boosts self-esteem and helps you sleep better at night. However, for many people, finishing the last lap on the track or pumping the final set of dumbbells can be a difficult accomplishment. Some researchers suggest that music may be the key to overcoming these obstacles. Speedy soul-moving songs could unlock longer workouts, according to a recent study.
The research was led by Dr. Costas Karageorghis, deputy head of the School of Sport and Education at Brunel University, London, who examined more than 6.7 million playlists, or a set list of songs, to determine which aspects affect performance. To little surprise, beats-per-minute proved among the most influential factor.
"Music lowers your perception of effort," Karageorghis told BBC. "It can trick your mind into feeling less tired during a workout, and also encourage positive thoughts."
Researchers created an optimal playlist for workouts. The mix begins with warm-up and stretching music – which becomes increasingly important as your body grows older and muscles start to contract. Then it transitions to cardio songs, meant to get the heart rate beating in a healthy rhythm, which slowly increases in intensity. Following, the tunes turn into strength-training jams, concluding with cool-down songs.
"Music blocks out fatigue-related symptoms such as the burning lungs, the beating heart and the lactic acid in the muscles," Karageorghis pointed out to the source. "It can reduce our perception of effort by as much as 10%. So, for example, a 66 minute cycle can feel like a 60 minute cycle with music."
The sports psychologist goes on to describe that music helps induce alpha wave activity, originally responsible for our rest states and dreams. This results in a state known as flow, a motivational phase in which athletes become entirely immersed in what they're doing and feel as though they are functioning on autopilot.
Music can also foster positive feelings, inspiring happiness and excitement at the same time reducing negative feelings such as depression, tension, anger and fatigue. In addition, lyrics play a role by conjuring images from memories, including heroic instances in overcoming adversity.
"If you were to play the track 'Chariots of Fire' by Vangelis, it immediately conjures up images of Olympic glory," Karageorghis added to the source. "This can be done through the lyrics. The former world champion boxer, Chris Eubank, used to use the Tina Turner track 'Simply the Best' due to the inspirational message in the lyrics."
Backed by music, how much exercise should seniors get?
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that seniors have at least 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, of moderate aerobic activity each week. That means jogging, walking, biking or any other activity that stimulates heart rate. In addition, they should partake in muscle-strengthening exercises that incorporate all of the major muscle groups – chest, legs, back, abdomen, hip – at least two days weekly.
If 2.5 hours of physical activity sounds overwhelming, listening to music while you do it serves as a great way to motivate yourself.
In a complementary study, Karageorghis and colleagues looked at unprofessional athletes in mid-workout. They discovered that men and women have different tastes in exercise music. Men, the researchers found, were more motivated by the "Rocky" theme song called "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor while women found energy reserves in Lady Gaga and Rihanna songs.
Even if you don't listen to these contemporary tracks on the radio, you can find a jam that inspires you, whether it's Neil Diamond, Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony" or Barbra Streisand.
Other benefits of music
Certainly, music can pump us up, but it can also calm us down. Listening to soothing tracks has been shown to reduce anxiety. According to meta-analysis of 400 studies in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, researchers evaluated patients who about to undergo surgery. Some participants were randomly assigned to listen to music while others were given anti-anxiety drugs. In the results, researchers found that patients who listened to music had less anxiety and lower amounts of the stress hormone cortisol than those who took drugs.
Perhaps even more impressively, music has been used to pull Alzheimer's patients, who are normally seen slumped and unresponsive, into an animated and coherent state. Prior to listening, one senior who had dementia could not even recognize his daughter. After listening to music via headphones, the patient lit up and was able to answer questions about his youth, even singing an old song complete with the correct lyrics. Social worker Dan Cohen described it as the "magic of music" in an interview with National Public Radio.