Moving to the music

The way we react to music can help us when we are being physically active. Physiotherapist Bhanu Ramaswamy looks at different ways of using music to enhance your experience.

Listening to music stimulates several different parts of our brains. Music activates the areas of our brains responsible for hearing, our awareness of rhythm and harmony, our emotions and sense of meaning, and physical movement.

Connections between these areas can boost our motivation to get going and keep moving.

Get the most out of exercise sessions

Lots of us will recognise that certain tunes make us tap our feet, nod our head to the beat and hit the dance floor! So, music can be a great way to get the most out of exercise sessions.

Of course, music can also calm and relax us. In music therapy, calming music or concentrating on the creation of sound may be used to reduce stress and anxiety, and lower blood pressure.

There are different ways to use music when we are active. It can help us stay focused on a particular activity, encourage rhythmic movements, or increase our enthusiasm with a stronger beat or faster pace.

There are different ways to use music

Exercise professionals often use the ergogenic (work and stamina-enhancing) effect of music to improve performance. Certain tunes can reduce people’s feelings of tiredness or increase their exercise capacity. This is especially helpful for strength and endurance training.

Most studies on the benefits of music and physical activity for people with Parkinson’s have focused on using music in dance classes. These studies report that music transformed the participants’ experience and helped to improve the quality of their movement.

Music is increasingly used by therapists and exercise professionals to improve walking, balance and other activities related to gait. Music has an effect on cognition (mental activity) and movement. People are able to focus on enjoying the music rather than focusing on their problems with mobility.

Music has also been used to encourage subconscious processes in the brain to improve the efficiency of physical movements. This is known as rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS).

Music and physical activity tips

  • Make physical activity a habit by choosing a familiar tune that revs you up and triggers the idea that you’re about to get active. This can help you create a link between the music and being motivated to start exercising. Play your pre-exercise tune when you’re changing into your exercise gear, or walking or driving to a class – it prepares your brain for the session ahead.
  • If you are about to begin an endurance activity like walking, jogging, cycling or swimming, find some synchronous music and focus on making your steps, pedalling or swim strokes in time with the musical beat. If you have the more rigid, slowing type of Parkinson’s, try to find a tune that works you a little faster than normal but still gives you time to stretch your legs and arms. If you experience a lot of freezing, try to find a slower, steady beat to give your brain and body time to co-ordinate activity.
  • A strong beat is necessary when exercising to music, but a lively rhythm also helps emotionally.
  • When choosing the tempo of the music, you need a slower beat for the warm-up and cool-down periods, and an increased beat for the main session. A tempo of 125–140 beats per minute is recommended for most healthy people doing repetitive, aerobic activity. This may initially be too fast for you, so work to increase your performance to this tempo over an 8–16 week period depending on your level of fitness and other medical conditions.
  • Getting active to music does not suit everyone, especially if you find it hard to concentrate on several things at once. A familiar song may be distracting if you find yourself singing the words and unable to concentrate on the activity. If so, use the tune as a pre-activity motivator and think about using the beat of a metronome to get active to. Metronomes can be purchased cheaply at a music store, or downloaded as an app on a smart phone.

Find out more about music therapy in our complementary therapy information.

Physical activity and exercise

Being active can help manage Parkinson’s symptoms, and has a positive impact both physically and mentally.