Whether we’re listening to a rock song, a catchy pop or country tune, a rap or EDM banger, music is a driving force behind workouts. Runners make playlists, cycling studios, gyms, and even athletes play music as they’re training to energize them; and for good reason.
When we listen to music and exercise at the same time the brain is triggered to push our bodies through fatigue. VR studios are fusing music and games together and essentially motivating our brains to play and exercise our way through titles like Beat Saber, BOX VR, and Soundboxing.
The Power of Music, Exercise & VR Gaming
Music and rhythm-based games are popular among fit gamers and casual gamers. Musically saturated games tap into our desire to dance or at the very least to keep a beat with our body movement in order to play them. The coupling of music with arm swings, punches, dancing, shuffling, and lunging around obstacles like a video game character is useful for fitness motivation.
To back this up, Bodybuilding.com shares that we can push ourselves harder and for longer periods when we exercise with music playing. The fitness experts shared the findings of a Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center study done on 127 people that had both diabetes and hypertension.
One group “listened to up-tempo music, while the other group had earbuds in but did not listen to music.” They found that “The group that listened to music was able to outlast the non-music group by an average of 50.6 seconds.”
The participants in the study ran on a treadmill that would incline and increase in difficulty in increments over the course of 20 minutes. Most participants lasted about 8 minutes, but the edge music provides is what’s important. Listening to music really does drive our brains and bodies to endure the discomfort of pushing ourselves at a gym or in VR.
Music as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug”
Scientific American did research on Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London and quoted him referring to upbeat music as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.” Music is so engaging to our brains that it has the power to soothe us and energize us when we listen to it.
Marconi Union’s song “Weightless” is considered to be one of the world’s most scientifically relaxing song. Why? The song goes from 60 beats per minute and drops down to 50 over the course of the song. Basically, it lowers our heart rate right along with the song’s progression.
Flip this idea upside down and we’ve got exercise-inducing Beat Saber songs with a BPM range from 90 to 166 beats per minute. 120 BPMs is considered the golden number that runners or people who do high-intensity exercise gravitate to. Is this a happy accident? I think not.
The Scientific American article also sheds light on recent research that suggests “a ceiling effect occurs around 145 bpm: anything higher does not seem to contribute much additional motivation.” I think there’s some truth to this claim but I want to challenge this idea with the popularity of the Beat Saber song “Lvl Insane”.
The difficult to master song, clocks in at an astounding 160 BPM. This lights our limbs aflame, but the beat map can be beaten with persistence. The stamina and drive to complete it with a perfect or near-perfect score shatters the idea of a fixed ceiling.
The mix of EDM music, blocks and their flurry of combinations are firing our mental and physical pistons to the max. In turn, this hyper stimulates us, challenges us with failure, but keeps us coming back for more.
The persistence, drive, motivation or whatever we call it clearly exists. So maybe our sensory thresholds are getting lifted higher right along with our progression in VR games and intense workouts.
Music, Stimulus Dependence & Moderation
Dr. Marcelo Bigliassi, a researcher at Brunel University London used a Marvin Gaye song “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” as the focus of his exercise and music study. Although the study was based around one song, a discussion with The Independent revealed that music is effective in reducing body fatigue. Dr. Bigliassi claims that listening to music frequently to motivate us to exercise could mean that we become too dependent on it.
In the article, Bigliassi speculates, “We have learnt so much about the psychophysical, psychological, and psychophysiological effects of music in the past two decades that people are almost developing a peculiar form of stimulus dependence”.
Going on to say, “If we continue to promote the unnecessary use of auditory and visual stimulation, the next generation might be no longer able to tolerate fatigue-related symptoms and exercise in the absence of music.”
On its face, this is a bit extreme. But maybe there is a tad bit of something to take away from his years of study and seeing how audiovisual stimulus affects people. Maybe this “stimulus dependence” he talks about also has something to do with how often we interact with technology throughout our everyday lives.
We watch TV (at home, in our cars), use radios, cell phones, tablets, computers, and play video games. There are even TVs at gas stations and electronic billboards for goodness sakes. Using any one of these for the majority of the day could constitute a dependence. But am I ignoring my life, loved ones, and responsibilities because of it? Definitely not.
After playing BOX VR and Beat Saber frequently, have you ever closed your eyes and seen orbs and cubes, or had one of their songs stuck in your head? This isn’t a symptom of dependence like Dr. Bigliassi is talking about, it’s more of a memory or thought thinking back to something we really enjoy.
Our brains and bodies are motivated by VR’s music and stimulating immersive environments. Clearly, games and technology are tapping into full body movement and the decreased fatigue we experience while we exercise with it.
Could we train our brains to use these games to our benefit without going overboard? Of course! If we can hack our brains to perform routines like working, exercising at the gym or in VR, eating healthy, and learning a new sport or subject, we can train it to do these things moderately.
VR games with catchy music motivate us to push past the barrier of fatigue. As we play stimulating and rewarding VR games for fitness we also need to be aware of “stimulation dependence” that was discussed.
Finding a balance between gaming and exercising in and out of VR, as well as competition and having fun is the key takeaway. Hack your brain to push past fatigue fit gamers, but also listen to your body, don’t pull a muscle over it, and get some rest.