This Is the One Thing That Can Make Hard Workouts Feel Easier

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If you feel like music gives your workout an extra boost, you’re not alone. Now, researchers at Texas Tech University say they’ve figured out just how much upbeat tunes can increase our tolerance for intense exercise: In a new study, people who listened to music during a cardiac stress test were able to sweat it out for almost a minute longer than those who didn’t.

The new study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, will be presented this week at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting in Orlando. The authors say their findings put some real data behind what many of us already know: that music can make difficult workouts seem easier.

“At least on a small scale, this study provides some evidence that music may help serve as an extra tool to help motivate someone to exercise more—which is critical to heart health,” said lead author Dr. Waseem Shami, a cardiology fellow at Texas Tech University Health Sciences, in a press release.

Dr. Shami and his colleagues recruited 127 people, each of whom was already scheduled for a routine electrocardiogram (ECG) treadmill stress test. The exam is used to measure how the heart responds to increasingly strenuous exercise; in this case, both the treadmill speed and incline were increased every three minutes.

Half of the people were randomly selected to listen to Latin-inspired, up-tempo music during their time on the treadmill, while the other half walked in silence. (All participants wore headphones, to prevent the investigators from knowing who was in which group.)

When they crunched the numbers, the researchers found that people who listened to music stuck with the test for an average of 8 minutes and 26 seconds, compared to an average of 7 minutes and 35 seconds for the no-music group. “After six minutes, you feel like you are running up a mountain, so even being able to go 50 seconds longer means a lot,” said Dr. Shami in the press release.

This isn’t the first study to suggest that a good beat and a catchy tune can improve athletic performance. Some research even suggests that people enjoy high-intensity workouts more when they’re paired with rhythm and melodies. Then again, other experts have noted that there may be a downside to working out with music: Auditory distractions can affect biomechanics, one 2017 study found, and might raise your risk of injury.

While this is the first study to show how music can affect the results of a cardiac stress test, the researchers believe their findings could apply to people in other settings that involve difficult exercise, as well—and that putting these findings to use might help motivate people to get the amount (and intensity) of physical activity they need.

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