Sophia Dembling had to practically force herself to put on her walking shoes before she started making tapes to accompany her workouts about eight years ago. With the precision of a scientist, Dembling, 46, carefully selected the songs to sync with the pace she wanted to keep on each of the four to six hourlong walking workouts she does each week. “I got absolutely hooked,” she says. “I walk to the beat. Its like a direct route from my brain to my feet.”
Now, whether shes trekking around her neighborhood or a nearby park, Dembling usually becomes so engrossed in her tunes that she forgets how hard shes working. Recently, she ditched her tape player for an iPod.
The take-away: Its pretty well established that, for many people, music can help make just about any workout more tolerable by diverting attention from a pounding heart and tired muscles, says Brian Focht, PhD, an exercise psychologist at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. And studies continue to demonstrate its effects. A group of Irish researchers recently monitored 15 men while they exercised on treadmills, first in silence, then while listening to the tunes of their choice. Music made all the difference: The guys upped their speeds by nearly 11% and burned an average of about 10% more calories, but said they felt like they were working only as hard as they did with the sound off.
Make it work for you: Choose whatever music most inspires you to get your feet moving, suggests Leigh Crews, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, noting that upbeat lyrics can lift your mood and bolster your self-esteem. Also, match the speed of the music to the pace of your workout. Crews suggests faster music (at least 140 beats per minute) for running, for example, and a slower beat for Pilates or yoga. If you dont feel like hunting down your own perfectly paced tunes, check out Healthy Living Hit Music, a series of walker-friendly CDs in 10 different styles (from country to Latin pop) and speeds (3.2, 3.6, and 4 mph), produced in partnership with the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas. Each CD ($14.99; mywalkingmusic.com) contains two 30-minute walking programs, each with a 5-minute cooldown. Or you can download songs from the site for 99 cents apiece to create your own mix.