About two years ago I wrote about a study that found that any amount of leisure-time running was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease which made me reconsider my usual advice to patients on exercise:
As part of a prospective longitudinal cohort study at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas, Lee, et al. looked at data from a group of 55,137 adults on whom they had information on running or jogging activity during the previous 3 months.
Those individuals who described themselves as having done any running in the last 3 months had a 30% lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 45% lower cardiovascular mortality.
Amazingly, it didn’t matter how much you ran.
Those who ran <51 minutes per week did just as well as those who ran >176 minutes per week.
At the time I felt the study was not definitive, but food for thought. Evidently, it got me thinking so much that I began running regularly (despite my previous dislike of running).
Music and the Tempo of Running
During my runs I listen to music on my iPhone, either through Apple Music or songs that I have purchased.
Today, after deciding Leonard Cohen’s Live in Dublin (although awesome, and one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard) was not motivating enough, I hit the first song on my iPhone: A-punk by Vampire Weekend.
A-Punk is one of my favorite songs released in the last decade. It’s very upbeat.. perfect for a running accompaniment. The opening guitar riff is simple, fast and catchy. It’s simple enough that I can play it on guitar but, so fast that my fingers fatigue quickly. The bridge portion features a wonderfully fast and complicated bass line with punchy drums and an overlying synth flute melody. You can watch a video of it here:
As I ran I realized that the tempo of A-Punk was perfectly suited to my preferred running speed of 6.1 MPH. You’re probably wondering what the tempo of A-Punk is. It’s likely that the only time song tempo comes up in general conversation is when talking about CPR and the need to compress the sternum at 100 beats per minute, the alleged tempo of The Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive (it’s actually 104 BPM.)
A-Punk’s tempo turned out to be 175 BPM. If you are not inclined to count the actual beats in a minute to determine the tempo of a song, you can enter the song into this site to get the number or download a smart phone app for the purpose.
Oddly enough, the next song on my alphabetical listing of songs, Hoagy Carmichael’s version of Aba Daba Honeymoon, also had a tempo (174 BPM) perfectly suited to my running speed. (The song after that was my old band Whistling Cadaver attempting to play the medley at the end of Abbey Road at our 30 year high school reunion in 2002-not good for running to, but immensely entertaining).
Monetizing Music For Running
Having observed that the tempo of certain songs matched perfectly to my running tempo, I wondered if there were any advantages to selecting such songs. Would I run faster or longer or with less discomfort or less injuries?
The web site run2rhythm would certainly like me to believe that running to the right tempo song will improve my performance. This site claims that “the wrong musical playlists can be detrimental to your training as they will not provide any synchronization between the body, the music and the mind. The body is almost always out of sync with the music.”
Run2rhythm provides a chart of the BPM that corresponds to different running speeds and sells playlists starting at $3.99 corresponding to specific tempos. These are playlists by unknown artists created for run2rhythm and the samples were not inspiring to me.
Is Music a Legal Drug For Athletes?
It turns out that there is a body of scientific literature related to music and exercise, and the vast majority of it seems to come from one man, Dr Costas Karageorghis at Brunel University in London, an expert on the effects of music on exercise. In his 2010 book, Inside Sport Psychology, he claims that listening to music while running can boost performance by up to 15%.
In media articles on the topic he is often quoted as saying “Music is a legal drug for athletes.”
However, in a 2012 review article he is more circumspect, concluding:
Music is now rarely viewed in a manner akin to the ‘vitamin model’ described by Sloboda (2008) wherein one can ascribe immutable effects to a specific musical selection for all listeners and at all times. The beneficial consequences of music use stem from an interaction between elements of the musical stimulus itself and factors relating to the traits and experiences of the listener, and aspects of the exercise environment and task. In particular, the role of music is dependent on when it is introduced in relation to the task and the intensity of the exercise undertaken. In closing, the evidence presented in this review demonstrates that music has a consistent and measurable effect on the psychological state and behaviour of exercise participants
Creating Your Own Tempo Playlist
The research on music and exercise suggests that songs with inspirational themes (apparently, “Gonna Fly Now,” the Rocky theme, is the most popular workout song of all time) are more effective performance enhancers. Also, self-selection of songs works better.
For me, running while listening allows me to focus on nuances of instrumentation, timing and lyrics that otherwise I would not pay attention to. It is essential, then, to have songs that are worthy of such close listening.
I wondered if anyone has compiled lists of songs of a certain BPM that were originals and good songs. Sure enough, the folks at jog.fm have exactly such a function. My search for songs with tempo of 175 BPM yielded A-Punk and hundreds of other songs, including some I like (thumbs down for Footloose and Wonderwall (which is really 1/2 of 175 BPM or 88 BPM), thumbs up for Dancing With Myself).
You will note that my preferred tempo of 175 BPM corresponds to a much faster running speed than my preferred 6.1 MPH. This may have to do with my short legs or my running style. It makes sense to count the number of steps you take per minute at your optimal speed rather than rely on charts or averages.
Achieving the Right Dose of Exercise
Whatever you listen to while running, walking, cycling or hopping, hopefully it will assist you to achieve the dose of exercise per week that results in improved cardiovascular outcomes.
This chart from recent European guidelines on lifestyle for prevention of disease describes different intensities of aerobic exercise:
If you engage in vigorous exercise such as running or jogging, cycling fast or singles tennis, you only need to achieve 75 minutes per week. Moderate exercise such as walking or elliptical work-outs requires 150 minutes/week.
As a result of switching to running, I’ve cut down my total exercise time per week by half leaving me more time to create music!
Readers – feel free to share your favorite workout songs and let me know what tempo works best for you.
Yikes! This is a silly video. I’m not sure I can run to the song anymore.