I've also noticed that the pace of my walking tends to vary depending on what I'm listening to. Certain songs tend to slow me down while others encourage me to break into a trot.
Curious as to why, I spoke with a couple of exercise experts to find out about the relationship between music and exercise.
No one knows more about this correlation than Jazzercise instructors who have made a business out of using music as a backdrop for aerobic exercise. Meredith Stapp, who teaches Jazzercise in Menlo Park, California, says that popular high-energy music is critical to the success of her program.
Jazzercise instructors can purchase CDs from the home office that include a compendium of music, all timed to work with the company's choreographed routines. Many of the selections, however, are popular songs by well-known artists such as Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Cher and Crystal Waters. Stapp also likes music from Pink, "Let's Celebrate" from Scotty, and "Jump for Joy" from 2 Unlimited.
It's All In The Beats
It turns out, according to Stapp, that there is some science behind the music selected for certain exercise routines. Choreographers and instructors base their musical selections on the number of beats per minute. The faster the beat, the more vigorous the routine.
Anne Harmon, group exercise director for the YMCA in Mountain View, California, concurs. For beginning walkers, she recommends music at 110 beats per minute (BPM), which encourages you to walk a 19-minute mile or about 3.1 miles per hour. Intermediate walkers should look for music with about 130 BPM to maintain a 4.1 mph pace. Advanced walkers who move along at about 4.7 mph should seek out music at 150 BPM while "very advanced" walkers might consider bopping along to music at 170 BPM.
Harmon says that you can figure out the beats per minute yourself by taking out a stopwatch while listening to the music, counting the beats for, say, 15 seconds and multiplying by four. Personally, I have trouble doing that, but I never have been one to be quite so scientific about anything to do with exercise, let alone music. All I know is that fast music makes me want to move faster.
Harmon recommends that you pick music that you enjoy so that that "it's fun for you." Fun music, says Harmon, "helps you think more about your forward movement than it does about how much you want to stop."
Harmon and other instructors from the El Camino Y were kind enough to suggest songs that they find motivating including: "You're Not Alone" (ATB), "Hey Ya!" (Outkast), "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" (Jet), "Smooth Criminal Remix" (Alien Ant Farm) and "Starry-Eyed Surprise" (Paul Oakenfold). All of these songs are available from both iTunes and Napster.
Barbara Peterson, who has taught Jazzercise in Palo Alto for 24 years, recommends "Fighter" (Christina Aguilera), "Mustang Sally," "Freeze Frame" (J Giles Band), "Mony Mony" (Billy Idol), "In the Mood" (Swingtime), "It's Raining Men," "Tribal Dance" and "No Limit" (2 Unlimited) and "Master Blaster" (Hypnotic Tango).
Where To Get It
There are lots of (legal) ways to get your hands on this type of music. You can start with your own CD collection. Think of the albums and songs in your collection that you enjoy, that motivate you and that literally "move" you.
Just about any PC or Mac can be used to "rip" music from a CD to an MP3 file (or WMA if you're using the Windows Media Player) that can then be copied to a portable music player or "burned" to a CD to listen to while you're exercising.
You might want to create a special playlist timed to your routine. If you exercise for about 45 minutes, you'll want about 10 to 12 songs. You could start with slower ones, build up to faster songs and then go for slower ones as you're about to finish.
Another way to get music is to download it from legal online music services such as Apple's iTunes, Napster, MusicMatch or Wal-Mart's new online downloading service that sells tunes for 88 cents each. The nice thing about these services is that you don't have to buy an entire album to get the songs you want. You can put together your own playlist of music, download the appropriate songs and you're all set with a musical workout that suites your taste and the pace you want to set.
Songs downloaded from Apple's iTunes service are ready to play only on Apple iPods. Songs downloaded from the other services are designed to play on portable music players compatible with the Windows Media format.
The good news is that you can get around these restrictions by downloading the music, burning it to a CD and then "ripping" (copying) the music from the CD to your PC and Mac. That way you wind up with an MP3 or WMA file that is unencrypted. MP3 files can be played on virtually any player. WMA files cannot be played on an iPod but can be played on many other players. This process is legal as long as you don't share the music with others.
Another option is to just get a portable CD player. They're bulkier than the more high tech digital players but still small enough to carry on a walk. Some newer portable players - starting at under $50 - can play MP3 songs, which means you can store up to 10 hours of music on a single CD, enough for some very long walks.
In addition to downloading music or copying it from your CDs, you can also purchase CDs especially designed for exercise. Power-Music.com bills itself as the "number-one source of music for fitness professionals." The company sells CDs that are designed for different types of exercises and, unlike music you select on your own, you don't have to calculate the beats per minute. They do it for you.
CDs typically cost about $25, but you can preview them on the company's Web site. You can also browse their Web site for ideas and song titles that you might want to obtain from other sources. The Web site includes the beats per minute for all songs on the company's CDs, many of which are also available from other sources.
A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid