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How an Exercise Playlist Helps You Live Longer

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Perhaps you get your treadmill groove on to “Kiss,” by Prince, or maybe you like Beyoncé, Carrie Underwood or Bruno Mars. Does it really matter what kind of music is playing in your headphones when you’re working out? Yes, according to a new study from Toronto’s University Health Network. In fact, having the right playlist can possibly even increase your life expectancy.

The study looked at cardiac rehabilitation—exercise regimens for people who had previously experienced a heart attack. If the recommended rehab is done, it can boost patients’ long-term survival by up to 20 percent. The catch, of course, is “if it’s done.” Because many patients don’t stick with their programs. Or, they kinda-sorta work out, but not with their best physical effort. Hmm, sounds like most of us humans when they go to the gym.

So the researchers looked to see how a personalized playlist could affect the exercisers. One third of the patients didn’t get to use any music during their cardiac rehab, one third got to choose their favorite type of music, and one third got their favorite music, modified with some extra rhythmic beats. Why extra beats? That’s a method called Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation, or RAS. RAS uses an auditory cue, like a strong beat in music, to provide a fixed rhythm. Patients use the musical cue to synchronize their body’s movement to it, such as how fast to move or how long their strides should be. The technique been used with Parkinson’s disease patients and people suffering traumatic brain injuries.

The patients with personalized playlists did much better than people without music, and the patients with the strong beat added to their music did the best of all, logging in 261 minutes or more of weekly physical activity than the other groups. That’s a 70 percent increase in the amount of weekly exercise they were getting. “The music tempo-pace synchronization … helps regulate, maintain and reinforce their prescribed exercise pace,” explained David Alter, MD, a senior scientist with Toronto Rehab/ University Health Network. “If this average increase of exercise was sustained for an average 65-year-old male patient, it would correlate with a projected life-expectancy increase of two and a half years.”

What’s the bottom line for you? Create a playlist with workout music you really enjoy, and pick songs with a lively, strong tempo, to keep you moving briskly.

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Spirituality & Health’s Wellbeing Editor, Kathryn Drury Wagner, is based in Savannah. She’s been a contributor to the magazine for many years, and she loves sharing ways to build a healthy, mindful, and sustainable lifestyle. 


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