In 2014 the skeptical cardiologist wrote about a study that found that any amount of leisure-time running was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease This had caused me to 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.
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 smartphone 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 (editor’s note-this website no longer exists, as most users likely found it as unhelpful as I did) 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.
Here’s an example:
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).
(Editor’s note-Jog.fm still exists but A-punk has fallen out of favor on the 174 BPM list as it has for me in 2021 versus 2016)
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.
Feature Image. Ed Yourdon. Wikimedia Commons.
5 thoughts on “Running For Longevity With Music: Does the Tempo Matter?”
Interesting read. As a cyclist, I’ve found if I can maintain a 90-100 RPM rate, the BPM rate will take care of itself and I can focus on the road (and be able to listen for traffic approaching from behind). At one time, I had several good playlists for indoor training and time on the treadmill, but it was still hard for me to concentrate while going nowhere on an indoor trainer, regardless of the tempo of the music. However I’ve found with the advent of streaming video I can still maintain my desired RPM, BPM and/or MPH without fear of being DOA because of boredom!
I prefer Vivaldi played by musicians attuned to Historically Informed Performance Practice. Back to fundamentals can be really fiery stuff – get you going.
But what I’d really like described to me in detail is the change-over point in exercise intensity beyond which the exercise becomes harmful.
Carl lavie, in a letter to the Mayo clinic Proceedings *http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(16)00068-9/abstract) entitled “Running and Mortality: Is More Actually Worse?” address this issue. I almost included graphs from that letter but decided they were too complicated.
It would appear that being any kind of runner is associated with lower mortality over being a non-runner but at the higher levels of running that association starts to go away.
Anthony, I have been running for 28+ years, competitively during many of those years, including currently. I am happy to learn that despite reading some recent articles to the contrary, my all cause mortality risk is lower than average, as a result of being a runner, as I had expected all along.
I have generally not trained with music as I prefer either conversation with my running mates or podcasts. Several years ago, I ran a few races with music and mostly enjoyed doing so but did not believe that my performance was meaningfully enhanced by it. In one particular half marathon, in fact, I was cursing my song selection when The Wall (Kansas) came on at a time late in the race when I felt like I was hitting The Wall.
At any rate, in recent years, I have gone away from racing to music, especially on trails, as sound cues can be important to warn of coming obstacles or racers gaining behind you and hoping to pass (ugh!).
Interesting. I didn’t remember Kansas’ The Wall. Listening to it now, it is kind of ploddingly ponderous and pretentious-I think I understand why you hit the wall during it. It’s listed on SongBPM as 172 BPM but the true BPM is half that.