Music helps patients exercise longer during cardiac stress testing

If music has helped you feel more energetic during a workout, you’re not alone. Research backs up the additive effect music can have on exercise.

According to a study that will be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual scientific session in Orlando on March 11, people who listened to upbeat, mostly Latin-inspired music during a cardiac stress test were able to exercise an average of 50.6 seconds longer than those who wore silent headphones (505.8 versus 455.2 seconds).

“At least on a small scale, this study provides some evidence that music may help serve as an extra tool to help motivate someone to exercise more, which is critical to heart health,” lead author Waseem Shami, MD, a cardiology fellow at Texas Tech University Health Sciences in El Paso, said in a press release. “I think it’s something we intuitively knew, but we found (to be true). I suspect if it had been a larger study, we’d see a bigger difference.”

The trial enrolled 127 patients who were randomly assigned to listen to music or wear silent headphones during cardiac stress testing, which involves exercising with electrodes attached to the chest to record the heart’s activity. The study population was 53 years old on average, mostly Hispanic—reflecting the center’s patient population—and nearly two-thirds women.

Researchers used the standard Bruce protocol for the stress testing. In this treadmill exercise, the speed and incline increase every three minutes.

“After six minutes, you feel like you are running up a mountain, so even being able to go 50 seconds longer means a lot,” said Shami, who added most healthy people last only seven or eight minutes, although the maximum duration of the test is 20 minutes.

Participants in the music group also showed a nonsignificant trend toward achieving a higher metabolic equivalent—a measure of exercise intensity based on oxygen consumption.

Shami said the findings need to be confirmed in a larger, more diverse patient group, but could eventually lead to up-tempo music being used as a clinical tool to more accurately assess a patient’s maximum exercise tolerance.

It might also motivate people outside the clinical setting to exercise more, and for longer durations.

“Our findings reinforce the idea that upbeat music has a synergistic effect in terms of making you want to exercise longer and stick with a daily exercise routine,” Shami said. “When doctors are recommending exercise, they might suggest listening to music too.”