Health Life

Move to the Beat

  • April 2, 2024
  • 3 min read
Move to the Beat

What is the human connection to music and dance? Any anthropologist can tell you that throughout history across the globe, humans have been making music and dancing, from rudimentary drumming and stomping to great symphonies. We all know how good it feels to move to our favourite tunes, but only recently are we finding out just why.

Brain imaging studies show that when we hear music, blood flow to the brain increases, particularly to the limbic system, which is involved in processing emotions and controlling memory. Areas involved in planning movement and sound processing light up even when we are still, producing brainwaves that synchronise, coaxing us to dance or tap along. When we do move, coordinating to the beat, we get a tiny hit of dopamine, the “reward” hormone. Even babies as young as 5 months old show a preference for being bobbed along to a beat over being moved out of time with it.

We can use these effects in exercise to make the whole experience more enjoyable and motivating. In fact, if you look at any gym class, music is an integral part of exercise, as well as human connection.

In her book, Move, Caroline Williams explains how this works. Regardless of age, size, or sex, humans resonate at a frequency of around 2 hertz. This is the equivalent of 120 beats per minute, which happens to be the rate in most modern music. When we move to this beat, our heart rates and brainwaves sync up. Add to this a coordinated breath, and you can expect to feel the ultimate endorphin release. Aim for 6 breaths per minute, which equates to breathing in for 5 seconds and out for 5 seconds. The increased brain oxygenation will improve cognition, memory, and alertness. The feel-good factors are numerous as the body releases serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins.

When done in a group setting, a strong sense of community and bonding is generated. Studies have even shown that it can reduce prejudice and encourage people to help one another afterwards.

These effects can be seen in many human behaviors from dancing, aerobics, and running to clapping in time at concerts. Even military parades and prayers can have a similar impact.

If you are looking to begin a fitness regime or reinvigorate your current one, try going for a walk or jog to your favorite music, coordinate your breathing, and time your strides to the beat. Ensure you get the right timing by typing 120 bpm into Spotify or any other music provider. Then just walk or jog to the beat and coordinate your breathing. It’ll be tricky at first, but it’ll be well worth the effort. Better still, find a group exercise class where you’ll enjoy the benefits of a supportive community, human connection and a few new friends. From 80s Aerobics to high-intensity interval training, there is something for everyone out there.

About Author

Natalie Shanahan

Natalie Shanahan has a BSc in Genetics and a MSc in Bioinformatics. She worked as a lecturer, teaching genetics and biochemistry, before moving to Australia to work for their first Bioinformatics company. Here she managed their marketing as well as working on their numerous educational resources. Natalie left her career in science to follow her passion and now works as a personal trainer and nutrition consultant, helping individuals and employees of large organisations, better understand their health and wellbeing.

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