How to “Trick” Your Body into Burning More Calories During Workouts

Picture the absolute best party you’ve ever attended.

Maybe it was a wild wedding reception, milestone birthday celebration, or a crazy Saturday night in college. Picture all the people carrying on, laughing, and dancing like there was no tomorrow.

Now, try to envision it without music. 

It’s nearly impossible, right?

Music plays an integral part in many of our experiences. It can dictate the tone in the room, influence your mood, and get you moving.

Today, I want to focus on how music helps you move. Especially since a growing number of people aren’t moving nearly enough…

This modern-day, sedentary way of life is causing an unprecedented increase in health problems like diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, mental disorders, and even cancer.

The good news is, there are some surprising ways music can help—particularly when it comes to providing the motivation to get you off the couch, out of that rut, and feeling great in just minutes. Not to mention how it can help you burn more calories during a workout…and make even the toughest exercise feel easier. 

More on that in just a minute. But first, let’s take a closer look at why it’s so important to get moving…

Too little physical activity increases cancer risk

More than 60 percent of American adults fail to meet the government’s guidelines of physical activity (150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week). Even worse, about 25 percent of adults are completely inactive.

The reality is, if you want to enjoy a long and healthy life, moving on a regular basis is non-negotiable. 

It really is just that simple, and the research proves it. 

In a major 2014 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers reviewed 43 studies, involving over 4 million individuals, and nearly 70,000 cancer cases.

They found that sedentary behavior was linked to an increased risk of various types of cancers, including:

  • 66 percent increase in endometrial (uterine) cancer
  • 24 percent increase in colon cancer 
  • 21 percent increase in lung cancer

The researchers also compared various sedentary activities: Television watching, recreational sitting, and occupational sitting.

Television watching had the most significant connection to increased cancer risk—particularly colon and endometrial cancer. 

Of course, there are many other health risks associated with too much sitting. (In fact, I recently covered what doctors are now referring to as “sitting disease.”)

And sedentary lifestyle isn’t only bad news for your physical health, but your mental health as well.

Exercise improves mental health

In a 2018 study involving over 1.2 million adults, researchers discovered that those who exercised regularly reported fewer mental health issues than those who didn’t.

The researchers noted that exercise was associated with up to a 22 percent decrease in mental stress compared to those who did not exercise.

And these are just a few examples of how physical activity plays an integral role in your overall well-being.

Of course, when it comes to exercise, getting started is often the hardest part. And I get it. If you aren’t currently doing any sort of exercise, or only doing a little bit here and there, it can feel like you’re so far away from what you “should” be doing. So it may seem futile to even try.

But this defeatist mindset only leads to more inertia, making it even harder to find the motivation to get up off the couch. 

Fortunately, music is the perfect tool for fostering a shift in mindset…

The secret to sparking workout motivation

Studies show that simply listening to up-tempo music can stimulate your brain to release dopamine (your body’s “feel good” chemical), motivating you to get up and get moving. 

The great thing is, after you start moving, your brain “rewards” you again by releasing more dopamine—as well as two other “feel good” chemicals, norepinephrine and serotonin. These brain chemicals also help boost your mood.

And the benefits don’t stop there.

Adding music to your exercise routine can help you get in a better, longer workout.

Researchers have found that music helps distract your mind from the fatigue or muscle burn associated with exercise, enabling you to achieve a higher intensity for a longer duration. 

As the great Bob Marley once sang, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

And in a 2012 study from London, researchers discovered several key health benefits from combining music with exercise, like: 

  • Elevated mood—which helps you actually enjoy your workout
  • Increased endurance—so you’re less likely to call it quits halfway through
  • Reduced perceived effort—which helps make even the toughest workouts feel like a piece of cake. And last, but certainly not least..
  • Better metabolic efficiency—meaning music can actually help you burn more calories

In fact, Costas Karageorghis, one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, describes music as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”

The best music for better workouts

Now that you know the physical and mental advantages of adding music to your exercise routine, let’s talk about which type of music is best.

Studies have found two specific musical qualities that can help keep you motivated and even amplify the benefits of working out. 

  • A strong beat and a lively tempo (ideally around 80 – 100 beats per minute). This pace is ideal for walking and lightly jogging. To give you an idea of what 100 beats per minute sounds like, listen to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”
  • A strong “rhythm response.” This is a term scientists use to describe the way people are hardwired to move to certain types of music. For example, you might catch yourself tapping your foot, clapping, or nodding your head to the beat of a certain song.

I suggest creating a playlist on YouTube (which is free to use) and fill it with fast-paced songs, as well as songs you can’t help but dance to! You can also search “100 beats per minute songs” for already made playlists.

Motivation proclamation

As I said above, getting started is usually the hardest part.  

But if you have access to music and the ability to move any part of your body, you already have everything you need.

And you can start small. Try standing instead of sitting, using the stairs instead of the elevator, or—one of my personal favorites—going for a walk every time you’re on a phone call.

As I always say, something is better than nothing! Start at your own pace and go from there. You won’t regret it.

P.S. – For some more music to get you going, check one of my audio toolkits, which features fast, rhythm-heavy tracks and ancient drumming techniques. Great for dancing or walking! Click here to learn more.


SOURCES:

Clark, I. N., Baker, F. A., & Taylor, N. F. (2016). The modulating effects of music listening on health-related exercise and physical activity in adults: A systematic review and narrative synthesis. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 25(1), 76-104.  Retrieved from: researchgate.net/publication/276836214_The_modulating_effects_of_music_listening_on_health-related_exercise_and_physical_activity_in_adults_a_systematic_review_and_narrative_synthesis

Chekroud, S., et al. (2018). Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1.2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study. Retrieved from: thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(18)30227-X/fulltext

Facts and Statistics. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Retrieved from:  hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html

Jabr, F. (2013). Let’s Get Physical: The Psychology of Effective Workout Music. Scientific American. Retrieved from: scientificamerican.com/article/psychology-workout-music/

Schmid, D., and Colditz, G. (2014). Sedentary behavior increases the risk of certain cancers. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. (106)7. Retrieved from: academic.oup.com/jnci/article/106/7/dju206/1010488

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.