Brain with headphones on

WARNING: to those athletes who like to WORKOUT NAK&D (sans music or listening to anything) this may disturb you, or persuade you to “come over to the fun side of the island.”

Who doesn’t love a good playlist? There are now estimated 10 zillion playlist specifically for working out.  Neuroscientists used to believe that music only impacts the right hemisphere of the brain, which is involved in art and other creative activities. However, recent findings show us that music affects regions throughout the entire brain.

One of the most common effects of music is that it can alter our mood and feelings. Dopamine is a chemical that causes a feeling of happiness or satisfaction.

When you listen to music you enjoy, a state of excitement and pleasure is triggered because of this dopamine release. If you’re already having a good day, listening to music can amplify that happiness. Listening to music also produces oxytocin, increasing your emotional understanding and creating peak emotions.

So how does this affect the brain during a workout? As our body becomes tired and wants to stop exercising, our body sends signals to the brain to stop and take a break. Listening to music competes for the brain’s attention and can help us overcome those feelings of fatigue. Not only does music help us exercise longer and harder by helping us push through the pain, but it can also actually help us use our energy more efficiently. A 2012 study showed cyclists who listened to music required 7% less oxygen.

Take a look at the direct impacts of music on the brain:

  • Auditory cortex is engaged when you listen to sounds and perceive and analyze tones.
  • Motor cortex and cerebellum are engaged when you’re tapping your foot, snapping your fingers, clapping your hands, or playing an instrument.
  • Nucleus accumbens, amygdala, and cerebellum are engaged when you react emotionally to music.
  • Visual cortex is engaged when you read music and assess a performer or your own movements.
  • Prefrontal cortex is engaged because it controls your behavior, expectations, expression, and decision-making.
  • Sensory cortex is engaged because it controls tactile feedback while moving your bady.
  • Hippocampus is engaged through music memories, experiences, and context.

Overall, the left hemisphere analyzes the music, while the right processes the emotions towards the music you are listening to.

Additionally, music reduces stress and anxiety, which can reduce symptoms of depression. It improves attention, which helps the brain anticipate events; music increases neuroplasticity, which helps the brain recover after injury. It protects the aging brain, which improves cognitive ability. Music releases endorphins, which eases pain and stabilizes the immune system; and it improves the quality of sleep, which again, can reduce depression.

The benefits of having great tunes during workouts is not rocket-science…it’s NEUROSCIENCE. And Nerd Alert: you don’t have to know all the brain parts and functions; all you have to do is choose between the 10 zillion playlist and listen.

BrainFacts/SfN Nov 9,2020

Girl holding sign