Fitness: Music makes working out fun

Her music

Here’s a sample of one of Cindy Eggemeyer’s favorite playlists:

“Mister Brightside,” The Killers
“Wishing Well,” Airborne Toxic Event
“Hitsville UK,” The Clash
“Shiny Happy People,” REM
“The Underdog,” Spoon
“Shopping Trolley,” Beth Orton
“I Will Wait,” Mumford & Sons
“Only Happy When it Rains,” Garbage
“Steal My Sunshine,” Len
“Lisztomania,” Phoenix

Our early ancestors might have started it, dancing around the campfire to the sound of drums and other ancient instruments. Today we still find that movement and music go together, even if we’re just nodding our heads to a favorite song. And when it comes to our workouts and other fitness activities, music plays an important role for many of us.

When I’m running, I feel like I can go on forever if I have music with the right lyrics and the right beat. I might even keep replaying a song that seems to keep me in the zone.

A lot of research has looked at how music makes workouts better, both mentally and physically. A 2013 Scientific American article summed up the findings of the last decade and more: “Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency.”

Then there’s the fun factor.

Renee Nelson, group exercise supervisor at Edward Health & Fitness Centers, talks about participants in a Zumba class, which incorporates Latin American dance moves.

“If you watch people’s faces, there’s joy,” she says. “There’s a reason the program is called Zumba Party, not Zumba workout. You’re so engaged by the music you don’t realize you’re sweating.”

When Nelson and her colleague, fitness coordinator Carol Teteak, create a playlist for their classes, it’s usually a mix of classic rock and roll, top 40 hits and alternative music. But even movie themes have a place if they have the ability to motivate.

“People really get pumped up when we play the ‘Rocky’ theme in a kickboxing class,” Nelson says.

Of course, tempo or beats per minute (bpm), is a key factor in professionally compiled workout playlists.

“We look for music at a certain tempo that is appropriate for the type of exercise,” Nelson says. “For the kickboxing classes, we try to pick songs like ‘Born to be Wild’ that’s around 142 bpm. The set will start with one tempo for the warm-up period, move to a faster beat for peak exercise and then return to a lower bpm for the cool down.”

But if Nelson was working with someone who is walking, she says she would probably want them to start at 125 bpm, peak at 132 and then come back to 125.

“Of course this is just a guideline,” she says. “Those rates should be adjusted to fit the individual’s fitness level.”

Do you need to go through this analysis to put together your own playlist? Only if you think that would be helpful for you. There’s nothing wrong with making up a playlist made up of songs you like, as long as they make you want to move.

But if you are interested in a playlist combining specific beats per minutes with your preferred type of music and lyrics, check out workout music sites, such as and You can choose one of their existing workout playlists for purchase on CD or for download. These sites also offer the option of customizing your own playlist. You choose the tracks (bpms are indicated) and an automatic mixing system does the rest.

For the playlist I use when running, I typically opt for upbeat music, ideally with a beat that matches my stride. See the sidebar for some of my favorites.

Cindy Eggemeyer is the executive director of Edward Health & Fitness Centers, with locations in Naperville, on the campus of Edward Hospital, 801 S. Washington St., and in Woodridge, at 6600 S. Route 53. For more information, visit Cindy can be reached at 630-646-7915 and

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