Living With

Using Music and Exercise to Control you Diabetes

David Mendosa Health Guide February 03, 2008
  • When I hike in the mountains, I prefer the sounds of nature to those coming from my iPod. But for the past month it's been too cold and windy for me to enjoy the mountains. Not even snowshoeing.

    But just because it's winter doesn't mean it's time for those of us with diabetes to stop exercising. Getting our regular exercise, eating nutritious food, and if necessary, taking diabetes medication are the three keys to control -- and probably in that order.

    So almost every day now I work out for an hour on the treadmill in fitness center where I live. Listening to music on an iPod there has several benefits.

    When I started going to the fitness center a couple of years ago, I used my iPod to listen to music or books so that I could blot out the sounds of the incessant television. But now I have positive reasons to use it to listen to music.

    Music with a strong beat helps me exercise longer and faster. I have never been a speed demon, but in the past couple of years I have enjoyed speeding up from a treadmill pace of about 2 miles per hour to around 3.8 mph.

    Some of that comes from feeling better and some from the encouragement of the music I listen to. The encouragement in turn makes me feel better, an example of a virtuous circle.

    "Studies have shown that listening to music during exercise can improve results, both in terms of being a motivator (people exercise longer and more vigorously to music) and as a distraction from negatives like fatigue," writes Steven Kurutz in "They’re Playing My Song. Time to Work Out."

    My song, however, is usually a lot more mellow than anything appropriate to a fitness center. In any other context, my kind of music is Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart.
    But when I am working out I need for the music to have a strong beat.

    The right pace depends on your goal, suggests James Sundquist in his article, "Exercise Pacing and Use of Music."
    He's the president of the Medical & Sports Music Institute of America. If you want to lose weight, you need to walk for one to two hours a day at about 120 steps (beats) per minute, Mr. Sundquist says. But that's not quite in the aerobic zone for most of us, and that requires a faster pace of about 140 steps per minute. If your goal is to build endurance and increase your fitness, you need to work out at an even faster pace of 160 or more steps per minute.

    The pace or the beat or the tempo of effective exercise music has a scientific basis, according to Dr. Costas Karageorghis, a reader in sport psychology at England's Brunel University. "For a piece of music to truly inspire the listener, it must have strong rhythmic qualities that match the activity at hand and also a tempo which matches the predicted heart rate," he writes. Dr. Karageorghis recommends that the tune's BPM should be between 120 and 140, which roughly corresponds to our average heart rate during a workout.

    That pace coincides with the range of most commercial dance music. So I turned to Power Music, which bills itself as "the worlds #1 source of fitness music." Power Music neatly categorizes its albums several ways, including BPM.

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    I bought what sounded like the least offensive album in the 120 to 145 BPM categories. But even that album sounded too much like elevator music to me.


    I needed help. Fortunately, my favorite Certified Diabetes Educator came to my rescue. She went through her extensive music collection and copied two CD's worth of fast tracks for me.

    Still, I wanted more variety.
    I had hoped that iTunes would help me. It includes a way to select tunes on the basis of beats per minute. BPM is a choice when you make a smart playlist and set up a range of BPM with the commands for file and then to get info. But it sure doesn't work for me.

    So I turned to the rock music that I enjoyed in my decadent middle years. It happens that my all-time favorite rock album is Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks." It's certainly not fast enough for a workout, but when I was reading about it at Wikipedia.org the other day, I noticed that Rolling Stone magazine listed "Astral Weeks" as No. 19 on the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time."

    That gave me the idea of seeking out other top rock albums for my workouts. While my knowledge of rock is limited compared to what I know about classical and baroque music, I knew enough to look for albums by guys like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel and check out the BPM by listening to snippets of them with iTunes before buying them. Yesterday I enjoyed my workout to selected cuts from both of these artists as well as one from The Band called "The Weight," which is No. 41 on the Rolling Stone magazine listing of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time," and
    something in which I have more than a passing interest.

    Natural sounds will have to wait for the spring. While the beat of rock music can't compare with the beauty of birdsong, a bubbling brook, or the wind in the trees, it does make it easier for me to put up with working out indoors.