1) Why did you do the study?
I became interested in this topic while walking with a friend and being passed by multiple runners. I noticed that I could easily hear the footsteps of runners who listened to music, compared to non-music listeners, who seemed to sneak up on us. I wondered if any research had been conducted concerning how hard individuals hit the ground when they listened to music versus not listening. It seemed a practical question, as almost everyone who exercises has listened to music sometime during a workout and many of these individuals chronically listen to music and will not exercise without it. Luckily for me, this specific question had never been answered in the literature, but I felt that, considering the prevalence of runners listening to music, it would be a worthwhile question worth answering and may help people understand if something was changing biomechanically when they exercised with music.
2) What did you do and what did you find?
For this study, I conducted a laboratory experiment that utilized physiological, biochemical, and biomechanical measures to assess the effects of music during a 30-minute bout of running. I recruited students from lifetime fitness (LFIT) classes that were recreationally active runners, performing no more than 120 minutes per week of aerobic exercise. When the subject first arrived to the lab, an accelerometer was fitted to the tibia so we could assess their ground impact forces during running. I then had the subjects run on the treadmill for 30 minutes, with 15 minutes spent listening to music and 15 minutes spent in a no music condition. The order of the music condition was counterbalanced to reduce bias and the fatiguing effect of exercise. During the treadmill run, the subjects’ heart rate and tibial accelerations were monitored and they had to describe their exertion levels (RPE) and feelings (feeling score). Subjects also had to spit into a cup multiple times so we could assess their cortisol levels, which acted as a biomarker of stress. In terms of my results, feeling score, a measure of how good a person feels during exercise, was the only significant variable, as the music condition produced greater feelings of wellbeing. All of the other variables, including the tibial accelerations used to assess impact forces, were not different between the two music conditions.
3) What’s the impact of these findings on the public?
The lack of change in impact forces found in this study suggest that runners should be able to safely use headphones while they exercise, as listening to music does not cause higher impact forces between the runner and the ground. The results of this research also suggest music produces greater feelings of wellbeing, which can lead to better adherence to exercise programs, and hopefully a healthier lifestyle. Music also does not appear to stress the individual more than exercising without music, as heart rate and cortisol levels were consistent between the music conditions. Therefore, music should continue to be used in an exercise setting, as long as the distracting effect of music does not endanger the exerciser to outdoor risks, such as vehicular traffic.