The Power of Music

For the past 30 years, a Brooklyn high school band has set up along the route of the New York marathon to perform the motivational theme song from “Rocky.” The song, “Gonna Fly Now,” debuted in 1976 while Rocky Balboa, in his gray sweatsuit, ran up the steps of the Philadelphia museum of art, and emotionally charged the audience as he pumped his fists in the air. "Gonna fly now," an Academy Award nominated song, continues to inspire millions of runners and stair climbers to “kick it up a notch.”

Last week, in Bilbao, Spain, I had my very own “Rocky” moment. Wandering around the pedestrian-friendly, architecturally endowed, gateway to the Basque Country, I happened upon an impressive staircase, which climbs from the river-side promenade to the tapas-bar-laden city above. With the “Rocky” theme song blaring in my head, I raced up the steps, immersed in the music. At the summit, my heart was beating quickly and my endorphin levels were rising. I refrained from pumping my arms, but I was feeling ready to take on the town.

Countless studies show that listening to music while exercising can lead to a longer and more vigorous workout. Research by Costas Karageorghis, at Brunel University in England, found that music distracts us from feeling fatigued and lowers our perception of exertion, making the experience more enjoyable. And, listening to a song with a faster beat encourages us to move at a faster pace. Tempo, he discovered, regulates movement and can prolong performance. Upbeat, faced-paced music can increase performance levels by up to 20 percent. According to Karageorghis, “The key to successful application of music is to use it at points when motivation is likely to ebb.” Since taste in music is quite subjective, there is no prescribed playlist. Instead, Karageorghis recommends selecting rhythmic songs with positive lyrics that energize and inspire you. Rock on!