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Want A Better Body? Exercise Your Ears

by StephenKelly

It has been said that music can soothe the savage beast, yet there's nothing better than a driving beat and a quick tempo to release your inner animal. Whether on the dance floor or at the gym, music can be a major motivator.

We already know that listening to music can jazz up your workout. But what exactly are guys getting jiggy with at the gym? An informal poll of members of Gold's Gym in San Francisco yielded some interesting results:

Minh (Age:38)

What he's listening to: Trance/house music
Why: "The high energy pushes me through a workout, especially cardio."
What else he's listening to: "Josh Groban. His music is soothing, so it's good for when I'm cooling down."

David (Age:52)

What he's listening to: Beethoven
Why: "Beethoven wrote some powerful, emotional music that strikes a nice balance between aggressive and soothing. It brings me up and down. Perfect for working out."
What else he's listening to: "Mainly classical, because it's the type of music I've loved all my life. It inspires me."

Joel (Age: 28)

What he's listening to: Miles Davis
Why: "I like working out to music without lyrics. I get into the melodies and move with the music. Jazz is perfect for that. Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" really gets me going."
What else he's listening to: "Jam bands like the Grateful Dead, Phish and Dave Matthews. They've got that jazzy, improv thing going on, too"

Ben (Age:46)

What he's listening to: Led Zeppelin
Why: "I rock out when I'm lifting, mainly guitar-driven, classic rock from the '60s, '70s and '80s. The stuff I grew up with and makes me drive fast in my car."
What else he's listening to: "British synth-pop like Depeche Mode, New Order, Pet Shop Boys."

Spencer (Age: 24)

What he's listening to: Dance music
Why: "I work out to the same stuff I dance to on the weekend, DJ remix stuff. Nothing better to get me energized, and I get a much better workout than I would without music."
What else he's listening to: "Remixes of Kelly Clarkson, Madonna, Black Eyed Peas. More stuff I dance to."

Different strokes for different folks, but what these guys share in common is how music makes a big difference in the quality and intensity of their workouts. To better understand why, we need to look upstairs.

Music exerts major influences on the mind and body, and has the ability to release powerful memories and emotions. Perhaps this is why people respond stronger to music than to most outside stimuli. And since people often equate music with movement and energy, the first few notes of a favorite song may be all that's needed to put you into your zone.

After years of research, though, neurologists have yet to discover what happens in the brain to make music affect us emotionally. Studies have revealed that music is processed by many areas of the brain, including the centers of reward and emotion that are also stimulated by food, addictive drugs and sex. Throw exercise into this mix of pleasurable experiences and you can begin to see why music and exercising make for a potent combination.

All of this mental stimulation also causes the brain to enact chemical changes within the body. Besides acting as mood manipulator, music affects respiration, heart rate and blood pressure, reduces muscle tension and gives us a general sense of well being. Scientists have evidence that music can reduce levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, while raising levels of testosterone and pain-regulating endorphins. If you're thinking those are the same changes caused by physical exertion, you're on to something.

You can see how this double whammy of mental and physical forces can help ramp up the intensity of your workout. But listening to music can distract you from oncoming fatigue, keeping the mind focused on something other than pounding heartbeat and labored breathing. This perception of exerting less can result in a harder, longer workout, faster calorie burn, a lessened sense pf pain and stress, and that state of euphoria known as "runner's high."

Moreover, adding music to your workout can keep your routine from becoming routine, making potentially boring exercises like running on the treadmill fresh and exciting. This simple touch can help prevent burnout and keep people, particularly beginners, adhering to their workouts. Is it any wonder that working out to music is a no-brainer?

Most gyms bring the music to you, usually playing a high-energy mash-up of rock, pop, dance and hip-hop. But this diversity of styles means you run the chance of listening to, and being distracted by, a lot of music you don't like. But with portable CD and cassette players, and MP3 players like the ubiquitous iPod, there's no reason you can't design your favorite music to fit your workout.

Burnable CDs and iPod playlists give you the freedom to do just that. It's a good idea to vary the music to match the pace of your workout. Your weight-lifting mix may be different from your treadmill collection, which you can coordinate so the beats per minute in a song match your heart's BPM as you work out. The faster the pace, the more adrenaline you may release in to your system.

Of course, music appreciation is a purely subjective thing. One man's masterpiece is another's noise. But whether you're into Metallica, Mozart or Madonna, it's all good. The point is to listen to whatever moves you and connects with you emotionally. It can make the difference between a humdrum workout and one that rocks.