Listening to music while running may be the key to improving the performance of people who experience mental fatigue, a study says.

The performance of runners who listened to a self-selected playlist after completing a challenging thought task was at the same level as when there was no mental fatigue, the study found.

This is the first study to examine the effects of listening to music playlists on endurance running ability and mental fatigue performance.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh used two tests to examine the effects of listening to music on the running performance of eighteen fitness enthusiasts.

One test examined the effects on interval running ability — alternating between high-intensity running and low-intensity running — in a group of nine physically active people, and the other examined the effects on 5-kilometer distance in a group of nine trained runners.

The groups underwent a 30-minute computerized cognitive test that put them in a state of mental fatigue before the high-intensity exercise. Runners were tested with and without self-chosen motivational music.

Researchers helped participants choose motivational songs by filling out a questionnaire before testing, asking them to rate the rhythm, style, melody, tempo, sound and rhythm of the music.

Examples of the songs participants listened to were Everyday by A$ap Rocky; Addicted To You by Avicii; Run This Town by Jay-Z; Power by Kanye West; No One Knows by Queens of the Stone Age; and Eye of the Tiger by Survivor.

Heart rate and perceived exertion levels were measured at various points during the exercise.

The team took into account the results of a baseline test performed by participants without prior mental exertion – and without the use of music.

The researchers found that the interval running ability of mentally tired fitness enthusiasts was moderately higher with music compared to without music, and was the same as when participants were not mentally tired.

Performance in the 5k run was also marginally better with self-selected music compared with no music.

According to the researchers, the positive effect of music may be due to a change in perceived effort when listening to tunes.

Dr. Sean Phillips of Edinburgh University’s Moray House School of Education and Sport said: “Mental fatigue is common for many of us, and it can negatively affect many of our daily activities, including physical exercise. Therefore, it is helpful to find safe and effective ways to reduce this negative impact.

“The findings suggest that listening to self-selected motivational music can be a useful strategy to help active people increase their stamina and performance during mental fatigue. This positive impact of self-selected music may help people better maintain the quality and beneficial impact of their workouts.”

Researchers say there are opportunities to further explore how listening to music while running affects large and different groups of people, under different conditions and using different physical activities. Work in these areas continues at the University of Edinburgh.

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