Music can help you walker faster without it feeling any harder -- but only if you're listening to the right tunes. But before you get too carried away building your playlist, remember that safety is a factor too. The number of people killed or seriously injured because they were distracted by headphones or earbuds tripled from 2004 to 2011, notes a study published in the journal "Injury Prevention."
How Music Affects Your Walk
If wearing headphones limits your sense of hearing and can compromise your safety, why bother? There’s an excellent reason, one that you likely already realize. Research sponsored by the American Council on Exercise confirmed what many exercisers intuit: Upbeat music makes you want to move with the beat, and music you like can distract you from the discomfort of a workout or even make it seem less strenuous than it is.
Choosing the Right Beat
The American Council on Exercise-sponsored research showed that the ideal music tempo for power walking is 137 to 139 beats per minute. Faster activities go well with higher beats per minute. The ideal tempo for running ranges from 147 to 169 beats per minute, for example, while cyclers may be comfortable anywhere from 135 to 170 beats per minute, depending on the speed of the ride. The stronger and clearer the beat of the music, the easier it will be for you to follow unconsciously, a phenomenon known as entrainment.
Walking Safely With Headphones and Earbuds
Ideally, you should never divide your attention when walking near motor vehicles, trains, cyclists or other fast-moving hazards. But if you really want -- or need -- that music to get you going, you can make it safer by wearing only one earbud, on the ear that faces away from traffic; or by keeping the music volume low enough that you can clearly hear passing traffic. Also, remember to stay visually engaged with your surroundings, sweeping for visual signs of potential hazard; this helps you avoid falling into what some have dubbed "iPod oblivion," or getting so caught up in what you're listening to that you forget your surroundings and walk or cycle into traffic.
Walking in the Wilderness
While there may be only scattered trains and buses on nature trails and out in the wilderness, many of the same concerns about safety still apply when you combine music and hiking. Ideally, you should be using both ears to watch out for cues that dangerous wildlife, people or other natural hazards are nearby. But if you must have your music, the same strategies you'd use in the city can help you stay safe in rural and wilderness areas too.
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