Hearing stimulation is processed by the brain, but what is the hormonal and nerve response actually generated by music during training or in a sports context?
By Pierre-Luc Dubé
There are many types of ergogenic aid on the market (supplement, equipment, etc.) All of these products are intended to facilitate and promote user performance. Music also appears to be a medium used to influence the physical abilities of an individual. The use of music for performance purposes seems to be more and more prevalent in the world of training. From people that frequent training centers up to high-level athletes, it is now more rare to see a person without a headset than the other way around. Hearing stimulation is processed by the brain, but what is the hormonal and nerve response actually generated by music during training or in a sports context?
Soft or slow music like classical could reduce certain parameters such as heart rate and systolic pressure. This type of music would influence the release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, by increasing the concentration of calcium in the blood serum. Dopamine, having a calming effect, reduces systolic pressure. The blood lactate level may also be reduced with music. The latter phenomenon could be explained by the reduction in cardiac output and, by the same token, by the metabolic demand placed on the body. Likewise, being relaxed may reduce tension in working muscles, making it easier for blood to pass through muscle tissue. Thus, the lactate could be more easily recycled and a less important oxygen deficit would limit its production. For the practice of endurance or long-term sport, these various parameters are important to manage when one wishes to perform and maintain a target intensity.
In addition, more catchy or fast music like techno would have the opposite effect. An increase in heart rate and systolic pressure was observed in a study by Gerraa et al. (1998). Significant increases in cortisol, endorphins, adrenocorticotropin hormones, norepinephrine, and growth hormone were recorded following listening to music and correlated with increased vital signs. Most of the previously named hormones are considered to be activators of the physiological system. Thus, the circulation of the various elements necessary for the production of energy via the prior release of hormones could be done thanks to the pseudo-stress that the music seems to create. Sports requiring qualities of strength and power could benefit from this type of music, promoting a higher level of wakefulness and a faster availability of the elements necessary for the production of energy.
However, all of these changes are modulated by the emotional and mental state of each individual. So, inter-individual variability could change the hormonal and physical response to listening to the same song. For example, some studies have found that it is possible to increase the workload without having an effect on the autonomic nervous system such as heart rate. This last statement expresses well the principle under which no one reacts in the same way to the auditory stimulus.
Care should be taken with the effect of the music, especially in the case where the use of music acts as an activator. Using an external source to activate our system can hide our level of fatigue and our actual physical abilities. For the same reasons as stimulants, it is better to try to understand the source of fatigue (work, sleep, training, etc.) than to work around the problem. Thus, it is possible to minimize the risk of injury and to maximize training. In short, there really does seem to be the potential to improve performance with music listening. Like any ergogenic product, its effectiveness is possible, first of all thanks to an adapted training plan but also with healthy lifestyle habits.
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