The benefits of music

23/10/2013  -  9.41

Professor Andrew Lane, Professor of Sports and Exercise Psychology

The benefits of music

A recent study has shown that listening to music can help to alleviate physical pain. Four out of ten people who suffered persistent pain said listening to music helped relieve their symptoms, a figure which rose to 66% for young people aged between 16-24.

(More information on this study can be found here:

An estimated 10 million people in the UK experience persistent or chronic pain, including back and neck pain, arthritis, joint pain, headaches or migraines, so these findings are important and will be seen as ground breaking.

In 2011, I was part of a research team which investigated the effects of music – particularly in respect to its impact on exercise and post-exercise recovery – and its benefits, which are varied and interesting.

Research evidence demonstrates that music has consistent and measurable effects on the behaviour and psychological states of male and female exercise participants. Music can also positively influence performance by improving endurance and/or exercise intensity.

Synchronous music use (i.e., when an exerciser consciously moves in time with a musical beat) has been shown to provide ergogenic and psychological benefits in repetitive endurance activities. For example, motivational synchronous music used during treadmill walking improved the time to voluntary exhaustion by 15% compared to motivationally neutral and control conditions (Karageorghis et al., 2009).

Other findings suggest that synchronous music may increase rhythmicity of movement, resulting in an efficiency gain that is associated with lower relative oxygen uptake (see Terry & Karageorghis, 2011).

When music is selected according to its motivational qualities, the positive impact on performance (e.g. increased endurance) and psychological states (e.g. enhanced affect) are even greater, which has important implications for exercise adherence.

In steady-state aerobic exercise, motivational music has also been shown to improve affective states by up to 15%. Similarly, music listening can be an effective dissociation strategy, reducing perceptions of effort and fatigue by up to 12%.

These benefits are especially pertinent to music use in a medical rehabilitation setting in which exercise plays a role (e.g. physiotherapy, stroke, chronic pain, cardiac episodes; see Siedlecki & Good, 2006) – which links in with the findings from the recent survey on music’s effect on those suffering with physical pain.

So what is the value of research such as this?

For me, it carries the message that music is a powerful thing which has perhaps been underappreciated in the past. Choosing a piece of music is not a hard or complex process, but it can provide benefits both mentally and physically.

Musical taste is, of course, highly individualised, but whether you like the Sex Pistols or Shirley Bassey, Bob Marley or Beethoven, there’s always room for a tune!