Tag Archives: exercising

Having difficulties working out? Add some fast music to it, researchers say

Sticking to a workout routine is never easy. Music, a new study concludes, can be an important ally.

Everyone has their own workout routine. Some just do it in isolation, others prefer being in a crowded room where everyone is doing their thing. Some like it loud, some prefer the quiet. For many people, music has become an integral part of working out.

It’s not hard to understand why. As the body is being pushed, the mind can easily wander off. Music can keep the mind entertained and distracted from the hard work the body is doing. That’s why you hear loud music in most gyms, and why you often see people jogging with headphones.

Previous studies have also documented that music can help distract from the fatigue and discomfort caused by exercise. However, different people see music in different ways — some like intense beats, others would prefer a soothing tune. How we perceive music is also influenced by culture, as well as personal preference. Everyone has their own preferred genres, and it’s not exactly clear what type of music (if any) works best during exercise.

A new study wanted to assess how beneficial music can be in high intensity and endurance exercise. The study analyzed the effect of the tempo of a piece of music on female volunteers who were either walking on a treadmill (endurance exercise) or using a leg press (high-intensity exercise).

The volunteers carried out two workout sessions, completing the exercise either in silence or while listening to pop music at different tempos. The researchers monitored several physical parameters of the volunteers, as well as their opinions about how hard the exercise was.

“We found that listening to high-tempo music while exercising resulted in the highest heart rate and lowest perceived exertion compared with not listening to music,” explained Professor Luca P. Ardigò of the University of Verona in Italy. “This means that the exercise seemed like less effort, but it was more beneficial in terms of enhancing physical fitness.”

The effects were strongest in participants listening to high-tempo music (170 – 190 bpm) while doing endurance exercises, suggesting that people performing endurance activities such as walking or running may reap the largest benefits from listening to intense music.

However, the study also features significant limitations. There were only 19 participants, not nearly enough to establish statistical relevance. In addition, all participants were young women (under 30), doing a specific type of exercise.

Nevertheless, it’s a good indication that at least in some scenarios, music might be an important aid when exercising.

In future research, the team will also investigate the effects of different types of music genres, melodies, or lyrics. Music is complex and multifaceted, and it’s not clear how all these different elements contribute to the experience that helps you when exercising.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Why music makes you feel less tired while exercising

Credit: Pixabay.

It’s leg day, so you hit the gym with perhaps not the usual enthusiasm you’re used to. Luckily you can plug in your headphones and play Eye of the Tiger (or your favorite Spotify workout playlist) to make those reps a little bit more bearable. Music, scientists say, has been found to improve performance of physical tasks, such as exercising — and now, a new study has uncovered a potential mechanism that explains this effect. According to researchers at Brunel University London, intense auditory stimuli activates a region of the brain that suppresses fatigue.

There are many studies that have documented the effects music — be it jazz or death metal — has on exercise. In 2012, researchers at Brunel University completed a systematic review of 62 studies on the performance-enhancing effects of music published since 1997. They found that listening to music before running or playing sports increases arousal and improves the performance of simple tasks. When music is played during physical activity, it has ergogenic (work-enhancing) effects. One way it improves outcomes is by both delaying fatigue and lessening the subjective perception of fatigue.

In a new study, a team of researchers at the same university delved deeper in order to investigate what’s responsible for these effects. For the study, 19 healthy adults had to exercise with a hand strengthener grip ring while they were sitting in an MRI scanner. During some of the 30 sets of reps they had to do, the participants listened to music, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine.

When music was playing, the participants were more excited to complete the task and showed an increase in thoughts that were unrelated to the task at hand. Music also activates a region of the brain called the left inferior frontal gyrus, which integrates and processes information from internal and external sources. The researchers found that the more this region was activated, the less exertion the participant felt.

Unraveling this mechanism might have important practical implications. For instance, the brain region identified in the study could be stimulated directly, facilitating low to moderate exercise and motivating high-risk individuals, such as those with obesity or diabetes. In a previous study, the authors used portable EEG technology — a cap that records the electrical activity of the brain — and found that listening to music while walking increased energy levels and enjoyment, at the expense of mental focus. Podcasts also led to performance improvements, though not as pronounced as listening to music. The effects were associated with an increase in beta waves in the frontal and frontal-central regions of the cortex.

However, music can only get you so far. The review mentioned earlier found that listening to music does not reduce perceptions of exertion when individuals are pushing beyond the anaerobic threshold — the point at which lactic acid begins to accumulate in the bloodstream and you feel sore.

The authors also note that people should be careful not to overdo this, lest they risk becoming overly reliant on music to exercise.  

“We have learned so much about the psychophysical, psychological, and psychophysiological effects of music in the past two decades that people are almost developing a peculiar form of stimulus dependence. If we continue to promote the unnecessary use of auditory and visual stimulation, the next generation might be no longer able to tolerate fatigue-related symptoms and exercise in the absence of music,” Marcelo Bigliassi of Brunel University London and co-author of the new study told PsyPost. 

“My view is that music and audiovisual stimuli can and should be used and promoted, but with due care,” Bigliassi said. “We should, perhaps, learn more about the joys of physical activity and develop methods/techniques to cope with the detrimental effects of fatigue (i.e., learn how to listen to our bodies and respect our biomechanical and physiological limitations).”

The findings appeared in the International Journal of Psychophysiology

Credit: Pixabay.

Never skip leg day: study finds hind leg inactivity causes neurological problems in mice

A new study performed by Italian researchers is rewriting medical textbooks. The findings suggest that inactivity in the hind legs of mice alters the rodents’ nervous system, leading to poor health outcomes that may partially explain why some patients with neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal muscular atrophy and other neurological diseases often rapidly decline in cognitive functions when their movement becomes limited.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

For the study, researchers at the Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy, immobilized the hind legs of mice, but not their front legs, for a period of 28 days. Otherwise, the mice were left to themselves, continuing to eat and groom as they normally would. The mice did not exhibit any signs of stress.

At the end of the trial, the team found that limiting physical activity decreased the number of neural stem cells in the subventricular region of the brain by 70 percent compared to the control group. What’s more, both neurons and oligodendrocytes — specialized cells that support and insulate nerve cells — didn’t fully mature when exercise was severely reduced.

“Our study supports the notion that people who are unable to do load-bearing exercises — such as patients who are bedridden, or even astronauts on extended travel — not only lose muscle mass, but their body chemistry is altered at the cellular level and even their nervous system is adversely impacted,” said Dr. Raffaella Adami from the Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy, in a statement.

“It is no accident that we are meant to be active: to walk, run, crouch to sit, and use our leg muscles to lift things,” Adami added. “Neurological health is not a one-way street with the brain telling the muscles ‘lift,’ ‘walk,’ and so on.”

It’s the brain that commands muscles how and when to contract in order to elicit movement. However, the findings show that muscles also send their own signals to the brain, with consequences for neural health.

When the researchers investigated the connection more closely, they found out that lack of physical activity lowers the amount of oxygen in the body, leading to an anaerobic environment and altered metabolism. Furthermore, reduced exercise impacts two genes. One of these, CDK5Rap1, is known to be critical to the health of mitochondria –– rod-shaped organelles that can be considered the power generators of the cell, converting oxygen and nutrients into adenosine triphosphate.

This feedback loop helps explain several health problems, ranging from cardiovascular disease as a result of sedentary lifestyles to more devastating conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and motor neuron disease.

Beyond medicine practice here on Earth, the findings could prove very important when planning future missions in space. The research shows that physical activity is critical in order to grow new neural cells and, as such, astronauts on long-term missions ought to perform load-bearing exercise daily. In the future, the researchers plan on studying the altered genes identified here in more depth.

The take-home message for the general public is that the physical inactivity is detrimental to our mental health,” co-author Dr. Daniele Bottai, also from the Università degli Studi di Milano, told ZME Science. 

“One could say our health is grounded on Earth in ways we are just beginning to understand,” concludes Bottai.

The findings appeared in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience. 

Drinking two glasses of wine a day, keeps premature death away

A long-term research, known as The 90+ Study, revealed some interesting statistics about longevity. Scientists were surprised to learn that the risk of premature death is lowered by 18% if you consume alcohol in low quantities (around 2 glasses of beer or wine per day). Meanwhile, exercising 15 to 45 minutes daily reduces the risk of early death by 11%.

Via Pixabay/Goyaines

This data seems a bit odd when looking at other studies which portray alcohol as carcinogenic.

“I have no explanation for it, but I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity,” said neurologist Claudia Kawas from the University of California, that initiated the study in 2003.

Since then, Kawas has been studying a group of over 1,600 people over the age of 90. Scientists paid visits to the participants biannually. They performed various tests, such as cognitive, neuropsychological and physical ones. Researchers also collected data on the participant’s medical history, hobbies, diet, and daily activities.

Another curious discovery was that people who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than normal or underweight people. The team found that 90-year-olds who were a bit overweight, but not obese, had their chances of premature death lowered by 3 percent.

“It’s not bad to be skinny when you’re young but it’s very bad to be skinny when you’re old,” stated Kawas.

Other findings on longevity showed that people who spent about two hours daily on a hobby lowered their risk of premature death by 21 percent. Meanwhile, subjects who drank two cups of coffee each day saw the risk fall by 10 percent.

“These people are inspiring — they drink wine, drink coffee, gain weight, but they exercise and use their brains. Maybe that can tell us something,” Kawas added.

Other major findings discovered by the team are:

  • Over 40% of people aged 90 and older suffer from dementia while almost 80% are disabled. Both are more common in women than men.
  • About half of people with dementia over age 90 do not have sufficient neuropathology in their brain to explain their cognitive loss.
  • People aged 90 and older with an APOE2 gene are less likely to have clinical Alzheimer’s dementia but are much more likely to have Alzheimer’s neuropathology in their brains.

So, who is to tell that we can’t live our lives in a fun way? Perhaps the people who lived to be 90 were more relaxed than the ones who didn’t. Maybe this counts more than imposing restrictions upon ourselves. Maybe we should pay more attention to our desires, engaging more in our hobbies, and relax every night with a glass or two of wine. It doesn’t sound that bad, does it? I, for one, think I will subscribe to these simple ‘rules’ of living. Will you?


Constant physical exercise reverses damage done to the heart by aging and sedentary lifestyle

Exercising regularly seems to have a remarkable rejuvenating effect on the heart, according to a new study performed at the University of Texas Southwestern and the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. Researchers say moderate physical exercise can reverse the effects of sedentarism and aging which can cause problems like heart failure, provided you do it often enough.


Credit: Pixabay.

The team investigated the effects of a training regime consisting of four to five workouts per week, each session lasting around 30 minutes plus warm-ups and cool-downs.

For the study, researchers recruited 53 middle-aged volunteers aged 45 to 64 who self-reported having a sedentary, lazy lifestyle. The participants were separated into two groups: one whose exercise program included moderate and high-intensity workouts, the other where participants performed weight training, balance work, and yoga.

During the first three months, the participants performed only three moderate exercise sessions per week. Once they built enough stamina, two high-intensity aerobic intervals were added to the first group.

At the end of the two-year study period, the differences between the two groups were strikingly clear. Those who had performed aerobic exercises showed an 18 percent improvement in their maximum oxygen intake during exercise and a more than 25 percent improvement in compliance, or elasticity, of the left ventricular muscle of the heart — the chamber that pumps oxygen-rich blood back out to the body. Those who did the yoga and weight sessions, however, did not show improved heart health.

One of the participants, aged 55, exercising on a treadmill. Credit: UT Southwestern.

One of the participants, aged 55, exercising on a treadmill. Credit: UT Southwestern.

The “winning” aerobic regime looked something like the following:

  • One of the weekly sessions included a high-intensity 30-minute workout, such as aerobic interval sessions in which heart rate tops 95 percent of peak rate for 4 minutes, with 3 minutes of recovery, repeated four times (a so-called “4 x 4”).
  • Each interval session was followed by a recovery session performed at relatively low intensity.
  • One day’s session lasted an hour and was of moderate intensity. (As a “prescription for life,” Levine said this longer session could be a fun activity such as tennis, aerobic dancing, walking, or biking).
  • One or two other sessions were performed each week at a moderate intensity, meaning the participant would break a sweat, be a little short of breath, but still be able to carry on a conversation — the “talk test.” In the study, exercise sessions were individually prescribed based on exercise tests and heart rate monitoring. The goal is to break a sweat but not get out of breath.
  • One or two weekly strength training sessions using weights or exercise machines were included on a separate day, or after an endurance session.

“Based on a series of studies performed by our team over the past 5 years, this ‘dose’ of exercise has become my prescription for life,” said senior author Dr. Benjamin Levine, Director of the Institute and Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern. “I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene – just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower.”

Dr. Levine, shown here in front of his laboratory's hyper/hypobaric environmental chamber which simulates performance in environments such as space or deep diving. Credit: UT Southwestern.

Dr. Levine, shown here in front of his laboratory’s hyper/hypobaric environmental chamber which simulates performance in environments such as space or deep diving. Credit: UT Southwestern.

Such benefits can be reaped as long as people start regularly exercising before age 65, a time when the heart still retains some plasticity and ability to remodel itself. The most important thing is to exercise frequently, the researchers stressed in the journal Circulation. Two to three times a week was not enough, the researchers found in a previous study. The intense workout was also extremely important, Levine said, even if it was just once a week.

“When the muscle stiffens, you get high pressure and the heart chamber doesn’t fill as well with blood. In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs. That’s when heart failure develops,” said Dr. Levine, in a statement. 

The authors also recommend diversification in the training regime so there’s a lower risk of getting bored and missing workouts. Tips include: performing the kind of exercise you have access to, do something enjoyable (tennis, basketball, ping-pong, etc.), alternating between low and high impact (cycling vs swimming, for instance). It’s also best to keep it simple if you don’t want to get overly complicated about it. Most of the volunteers who saw a marked improvement in their heart health chose to run, walk, or cycle.

“I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene – just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower,” Levine said.

Credit: Pixabay.

Exercising improves nicotine withdrawal symptoms, helps to quit smoking

For many smokers, quitting the habit can be one of the hardest things they’ve done or attempted to in their lives. There are some things people can do to transit to a smoking-free lifestyle, such as using nicotine patches or vaping. The problem is you’re not getting rid of nicotine this way, a highly addictive substance. What might work better is physical exercise, a new study suggests.

According to British researchers at St George’s University of London, exercising activates many brain receptors share by nicotine. In other words, exercising gives off a similar buzz to smoking. This could mean that people trying to stop smoking could reduce the severity of nicotine withdrawal by working out more.

The researchers found that even moderate intensity exercise activates a type of receptor in the brain called α7 nicotinic acetylcholine — a target of nicotine.

The study was carried out on nicotine-treated mice who had to perform 2 or 24 hours a day of wheel running exercise. The rodents’ nicotine withdrawal symptoms were then compared to a sedentary control group.

Previously, other studies showed that running groups could help smokers quit the habit. Another 2012 study found that people who exercise are 55 percent more likely to quit—and 43 percent less likely to relapse into smoking, too. These studies found that people should exercise at least 30 minutes per day to reduce their nicotine cravings.

“The evidence suggests that exercise decreases nicotine withdrawal symptoms in humans; however, the mechanisms mediating this effect are unclear,” said Dr Alexis Bailey, Senior Lecturer in Neuropharmacology, at St George’s, University of London, in a statement.

“Our research has shed light on how the protective effect of exercise against nicotine dependence actually works.”

Findings appeared the British Journal of Pharmacology.

VR bicycle

Cycling while playing virtual reality games: will this convince people to exercise?

VR bicycle

There’s no secret that exercising, along with a healthy diet, is the best way to stay lean, healthy and strong. A lot of people, including yours truly, however lack the discipline to seriously commit to regular exercising. Part of the problem lies in framing it as a drag; something unpleasant that involves making sacrifices. A San Francisco startup is trying a novel approach to enticing people to exercise more: combine people’s love for video games with a virtual reality assisted bicycle.


The company called Virzoom uses a special bicycle that’s been designed to sync with the Sony PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift. At the handlebar’s ends are gaming controllers that allow the user to perform various in-game functions and control the environment. It also consists of sensors and vitals monitor to keep track of the users’ gestures and movements. So far, the company released five games.


One is a Wild West themed game in which you ride a horse and have to lasso bandits. The faster you peddle, the faster the horse gallops. To catch the bandit you just have to stare at him, then a colour gauge appears. You fire the lasso when you hit green. Another sees you riding a pegasus through a forest, filled with fruit which the winged horse needs to keep on flapping. Again, speed is synced with peddling and leaning left or right on the bike will similarly direct pegasus left or right.

You can also play in multiplayer so the competition gets your heart pumping even more.

The whole concept sounds interesting, but will this fool anyone? People who exercise often will not be enticed to buy this product simply because it distracts them from real work. Wearing a headset VR while exercising can be very uncomfortable. The unit is bulky, and your head can feel like a sauna once you really start to burn some fat. On the other hand, people who hate exercising but love video games (the target audience) might get bored by the interface fast. Hayden Dingman from PCworld had a hands-on test with the device and says that he isn’t sold. He thought it was boring and the VR environment made him feel sick because it doesn’t emulate real life physics properly (a huge problem for all VR developers).

I like the idea, but I wouldn’t use it. I don’t enjoy exercising (few people do), but having to distract yourself to the point of total VR immersion seems like a stretch for now. Maybe I’m just not ready. What about you? Would you buy it?

Virzoom’s stationary bike will be released in 2016. You can pre-order now for $200 ($50 off from $250).


Regularly exercising reduces risk of dementia by 40%

We’ve all read and heard about how exercise can dramatically boost our quality of living, but how many people actually take action? Very few. Less than 20% of Americans over the age of 18 meet the official recommended guidelines. This is really alarming, because what most people don’t know is that mild exercising has fantastic returns, similarly to the 20/80 rule – namely 20% of your input (energy) returns 80% of the output (health benefits). For instance, a study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke found that regular exercising reduces the risk of developing dementia by 40% and all cognitive impairments by 60%. And this is just one of the many added benefits.

“We strongly suggest physical activity of moderate intensity at least 30 minutes three times a week to prevent cognitive impairment,” said Ana Verdelho, M.D., lead author of the study and a neuroscience researcher at the University of Lisbon, Santa Maria Hospital in Portugal. “This is particularly important for people with vascular risk factors such as hypertension, stroke or diabetes.”

The researchers followed 639 people between 60 and 80 years of age. Some 64% said they were active at least 30 minutes a day three times a week. This included gym classes, walking and biking.  The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise for optimal health.

[RELATED] Average obese woman gets one hour of exercise per year

Researchers performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests at the beginning and end of the study to gauge white matter changes in the brain, an indicator of possible cognitive decline, in addition to surveying the participants asking them about depression, quality of life and performing everyday activities. At the end of the follow-up, 90 patients had dementia, including 54 with vascular dementia in which impaired blood flow to the brain causes cognitive decline, and 34 patients met criteria for Alzheimer’s disease. Another 147 patients developed cognitive impairment, but not dementia. This is the latest in a series of studies that show exercising promotes brain heath.

Besides better brain health, exercising has been found to increase bone mineral density by as much as 2 to 8 percent a year, reduce the risk of contracting heart-related diseases, better sweat response, higher oxygen intake capabilities and more – overall, exercise helps you live a longer and better life and it’s never too late to start!



Exercising helps preserve vision for the elderly


Physical workouts, be it simple home fitness, represent a golden standard for living a healthy life. Researchers at Emory University recently proved another key benefit to exercising, one especially useful to the elderly, after they found that even taking a few short walks a day can vastly curb  macular degeneration – the leading cause for loss of vision.

Studies that focus on the therapeutic or beneficial effects of exercising are usually centered around neurodegenerative diseases or injuries, and less on vision. Dr. Machelle Pardue and colleagues wanted to see whether there was any significant improvements in vision through exercising. Age-related macular degeneration – the progressive loss of vision with old age – is caused by the loss of light-sensing nerve cells in the retina called photoreceptors. It’s a bit like loosing pixels on a huge resolution TV, only instead of blank spots, your display becomes more blurry.

With this in mind, the team conceived a study where an animal model (mice) was subjected to exercising before and after exposing the animals to bright light that causes retinal degeneration. The researchers trained mice to run on a treadmill for one hour per day, five days per week, for two weeks. After the toxic light altered the mice’s vision, another two weeks of the same program was studied. Remarkably, the exercised animals had nearly twice the number of photoreceptor cells than animals that spent the equivalent amount of time on a stationary treadmill, and their retinal cells were more responsive to light.

“This research may lead to tailored exercise regimens or combination therapies in treatments of retinal degenerative diseases,” Pardue says. “Possibly in the near future, ophthalmologists could be prescribing exercise as a low-cost intervention to delay vision loss.”

Just one hour a day of exercising can have dramatic positive effects on your vision, later in life

Previously, similar studies also showed that exercising can significantly improve vision, however these followed energy intensive workouts like long-distance running. The present study suggests that even light exercising, like walking an hour a day, may provide a dramatic improvement for your eyes’ health.

“One point to emphasize is that the exercise the animals engaged in is really comparable to a brisk walk,” Pardue says. “One previous study that examined the effects of exercise on vision in humans had examined a select group of long distance runners. Our results suggest it’s possible to attain these effects with more moderate exercise.”

What are the mechanisms that link exercising with prolonged vision, though? The researchers were able to identify a certain growth factor called BDNF, which was thought to be involved in the beneficial effects of exercise in other studies. Mice that ran on  the treadmill a full four weeks had higher levels of BDNF in their blood, brain and retina than the mice that hadn’t exercised. Also, when the researchers blocked BDNF receptors, exercising didn’t render any visible improvements for eyesight. Next, the researchers are looking to find whether  other exercise regimens are even more protective and whether exercise is beneficial in models of other retinal diseases such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. 

The results were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.