So it Turns Out Playing Music Really Can Make You Run Better - Men's Health Magazine Australia

So it Turns Out Playing Music Really Can Make You Run Better

According to the good folks at the University of Edinburgh.
Movie still ‘100 Streets’/CrossDay Productions

We’ve all been there. With those final few kilometres to go in a challenging run or workout, we reach for the iPod and find that playlist that helps us dig a little deeper. It might be some Eminem, a bit of AC/DC or some good ol’ T Swift (there’s no judgement here, chaps). Whether it’s a thumping power ballad or motivational rap, the music can help you survive, and even thrive, in those dying minutes. Evidence is now suggesting this link between music and performance is more than coincidental, with scientists at the University of Edinburgh publishing results that indicate running to music can help combat mental fatigue.

The study is said to be the first of its kind to investigate the impact of listening to music on endurance running capacity and performance when mentally fatigued. It concluded that the performance of runners listening to a self-selected playlist after completing a demanding thinking task, was at the same level as when they were not mentally fatigued. Here’s how it worked.

The researchers split 18 runners into two groups. One would perform interval running while the other would do a 5k time trial. Beforehand, both groups would complete a 30 minute thinking task that had the effect of mentally fatiguing the participant. The runners were then tested both with the use of self-selected music and without. 

Researchers even helped participants pick the best motivational songs, with examples ranging from ‘Everyday’ by A$AP Rocky, to ‘No One Knows’ by Queens of the Stone Age, and, of course, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Survivor. At various points during the run, researchers tested the heart rate and rating of perceived exertion of the participants. 

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Taking into account the participants baseline score – their score on the run without performing a mentally fatiguing exercise beforehand – researchers found that both groups’ running capacity was greater when listening to music and that their performance when listening to music was the same as when they were not mentally fatigued. Researchers say the positive effect of listening to music may be down to the altered perception of effort when listening to music.

Dr Shaun Phillips, of the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education and Sport, said: “Mental fatigue is a common occurrence for many of us, and can negatively impact many of our day-to-day activities, including exercise. Finding safe and effective ways to reduce this negative impact is therefore useful.

“The findings indicate that listening to self-selected motivational music may be a useful strategy to help active people improve their endurance running capacity and performance when mentally fatigued. This positive impact of self-selected music could help people to better maintain the quality and beneficial impact of their exercise sessions.”

Phillips went on to say the University of Edinburgh will continue to study the effect of listening to music on physical performance. We’ll keep you posted.

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Christopher Riley

By Christopher Riley

Christopher is contributing editor for Australian Men's Health, specialising in sport, music and style. He has previously worked as deputy editor of GQ Australia and columnist for T Australia: The New York Times Style Magazine. His first book, King, a biography of hip hop pioneer Hau Lātūkefu, was published by Penguin Random House in 2022.

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