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Music & Fitness

When you're tired, music can help you get a better workout.

Moviemakers are masters at the art of manipulating emotions. They use lighting, sets, costumes and camera angles to bring out the feelings they want from the audience. Of all the tools a cinematographer has at his disposal, one of the most powerful is the movie soundtrack.

Take a simple shot of the ocean, with waves crashing against the shore. Now overlay that with music from the Beach Boys, such as "Surfin" and suddenly it's a California beach in the middle of summer. But, if you take that same scene and change the music, let's say to the theme song from the movie Jaws, and that beach becomes ominous and the water positively terrifying. You might even feel yourself breaking out in a sweat at the thought of it.

You can use that same power of music to get in shape. Researchers discovered a psycho-biological effect that when people listen to music. They become more relaxed, muscle tension is reduced, and both blood flow and lactate clearance is higher. Music also provides a "distraction effect" that lowers the influence of stress caused by fatigue. In other words, when you're tired, music can help you get a better workout in.

Working out harder, with less stress is good, but the length of your workout is also important. It turns out, music helps there as well. In 2004 there was a study that showed listening to music can yield significantly longer endurance times.

If you want better workouts, here are some ways you can use music to enhance them.

Choose the right device. With digital music players, you can download hundreds of songs into something the size of a deck of cards. Many are shock-resistant, so you can jog without worrying about the music skipping. But don't feel like you have to splurge on the latest technology. Portable CD players have dropped in price where a reasonable one can be purchased for under $50 and many have anti-skip technology so you can run with them.

Make sure the tempo of the music you're listening to is appropriate for the exercises you're doing. The tempo should match the heart rate you want to achieve. If you're doing cardio and your target heart rate is 100 beats per minute, the tempo of your music should be 100 beats per minute. Studies indicate that the preferred tempi are one, one and a half, and two times as fast as heart rate. The tempo of music has a simple, harmonic relationship to heart rate, so keep it more upbeat and lively.

Decide what you're going to play before you get to the gym. If you're using a digital audio device, put together some playlists. The first one should be for 10 or 15 minutes to play while you're warming up. Then have a second one to play during the workout. A third one is good to fill with really upbeat music that you can play when you start to fade. And finally, set up a fourth one for your cool down time at the end.

Get remixes. The standard music played on radio stations can get old. Look for remixed versions of the songs you love. Remixes are usually longer and they tend to have a more distinct beat that will energize your workout.

The music should be loud enough so that you can hear, but not so loud you might endanger yourself. Make sure you can hear traffic when you're crossing the street or people who may be jogging or riding bikes around you on an exercise path.

Music doesn't have to be loud to keep you motivated. Remember the number 85. Noise-Induced Hearing Loss is caused by sound levels and duration. The longer you listen to "loud" music (above 85 decibels), the more likely you'll lose part of your hearing.

We give you this warning because the Apple Ipods can go up to 104 dBA with the included headphones, almost 20 dBA higher than necessary to damage hearing.'

Don't think music has to be loud to keep you motivated. Music played at sound levels considered "low-risk" was just as enjoyable and motivational for test subjects who listened to them. If you're going to an aerobics class where the music is cranked all the way up, consider getting a good set of earplugs to protect your hearing.

Finally, play what you want, not what other people think you should. It's your motivational music, don't feel like you have to listen to things someone else loads on your player. It doesn't matter if it's 70s disco or 90s metal. When you're working out at the gym, the music coming through your headphones should be all about you.

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  • Did you know that listening to music while exercising can make you smarter?

    It appears to be true. Charles Emergy, Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University found that, "Exercise seems to cause positive changes in the nervous system, and these changes may have a direct effect on cognitive ability." There you go. Exercise and get smarter!