Project Louise: Music Makes The Heart Beat Faster

This article is more than 7 years old.

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

So it turns out this kid thing really works. I did not do great workouts on all three days that I promised to exercise, but I did get myself moving. Even better, having made this promise caused me to think about taking care of myself for my kids’ sake every single day. Being here for my children turns out to be a really great motivator.

And – who knew? – my kids are helping with Project Louise in other ways, too. The 5-year-old got me running around outside on Sunday; it didn’t even feel like a workout, but it was. (That’s my new goal: workouts that feel more like “playouts.”) And the 16-year-old has given me another boost: music to listen to while I walk or bike.

Carey Goldberg, who co-hosts CommonHealth, has been telling me for a while that I need to add music to my workouts; she was even kind enough to lend me some of her favorite CDs. She also shared some great information about why music helps, and I’ve also tracked down a bit on my own. So here’s the scoop.

First, Carey pointed me to a post on The New York Times’ Well blog in which Gretchen Reynolds summarizes a lot of the research into the connections between music and movement. The link is “fascinating and not fully understood,” Reynolds says, but “no one doubts that people respond to music during exercise.” The question is why.

A recent Scientific American article provides a few answers: “Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency.”

That last part is especially interesting. I mean, we all know that music can be a great distraction. But the idea that it could actually make our bodies work better? That was new to me. What happens, the article suggests, is that music “can function as a metronome, helping someone maintain a steady pace, reducing false steps and decreasing energy expenditure.”

It seems that our bodies may naturally fall into the rhythm of whatever we’re listening to. And, even more striking, many people apparently settle into the same rhythm: about 120 beats per minute. Scientific American links to an analysis of more than 74,000 popular songs produced between 1960 and 1990, which showed that the most prevalent pulse was … 120 bpm.

Even better, the article pointed me to a sidebar on how to create your ideal workout playlist. And that article sent me to to look up the beats of some of my favorites. And that site sent me to, which actually creates playlists based on your favorite genres and ideal pace. Here’s one it offered me for walking a 17-minute mile.

If you prefer, you can also download the app, which builds appropriate playlists for your pace from the music you already have. I’ve just started playing with that, and that’s where we get back to my kid.

One of our favorite shared activities is listening to music together. I’ve shared Django Reinhardt and Louis Armstrong with him, and he’s returned the favor with Daft Punk and Caravan Palace. And, whaddaya know, his music has just the right beats for my pace. (I’m thinking Django might be just about right for a leisurely swim, with the waterproof iPod gizmo someone told me about last week.)

All of this feels like a big win. Thinking about music is a lot more fun for me than thinking about working out. And using music to reward myself for exercising is a great incentive: Pick some music I love but don’t own yet, and download it for my next walk. Then go for that walk, and earn some more music to buy.

It’s a lot more exciting – and less fattening – than Cheez-Its.

Readers, do you have favorite workout tunes? Or do you prefer audiobooks, podcasts or even the sound of silence?

Louise Kennedy Twitter Contributor
Louise Kennedy previously worked with The ARTery and as editor of Edify.