How music can make you stronger

Jul 26, 2012 at 4:22 p.m. ET

A powerful force is pulsing from your speakers. The music you listen to can have a strong impact on your mind and body. Choose your tunes carefully and you can put together a soundtrack for your life that lifts your spirits, focuses your mind and primes your body for action.

Woman working out listening to music

Crank up your workout with music

Tracks to try: “Gold on the Ceiling” by the Black Keys, “Beautiful Day” by U2, “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John

Music can change your mood, thoughts and emotions. If you play inspiring songs during a low- to moderate-intensity workout, you can improve your endurance, power and strength. In fact, sports psychology researchers Costas Karageorghis and David-Lee Priest recently wrote that “music can be thought of as a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.” To energize your next workout, load up your mp3 player with songs that have 125 to 140 beats per minute (bpm) before you hit the bike or the treadmill.

Music helps you tune out stress

Tracks to try: “Holocene” by Bon Iver, “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, “The Greatest” by Cat Power

Freaking out? Music can soothe your frayed nerves, according to the American Music Therapy Association. Researchers at Yale University School of Medicine found that surgical patients were less stressed if they listened to 30 minutes of their favorite music while they waited for their procedures. Critically ill patients in the intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital felt less anxiety after they listened to an hour of Mozart’s piano sonatas. Harmonious tunes with notes that progress from low to high tend to be most relaxing, but the best music for reducing anxiety is the music that you like best.

Get into the groove at work

Tracks to try: “Hoppipolla” by Sigur Ros, “Your Hand in Mine” by Explosions in the Sky

Low-key tunes might even make you a better professional. The journal Work recently published a study showing that young workers concentrated better when they listened to music without lyrics. Instrumental background music could help focus your attention on your next project at the office. Beware of music that you feel strongly about, though. If you really like (or really don’t like) a piece of music, it can distract you from the task you’re working on.

Pump up the tunes but lower the volume

There’s one potential downside to the magic of music: the risk of noise-related hearing loss. Your music player fits in the palm of your hand, but it can amplify your tunes to seriously dangerous levels. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, noises louder than 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing damage. (To put that in context, the sound of a lawnmower is about 90 decibels.)  If you turn your iPod up to maximum volume, you will be blasting your ears with more than 100 decibels. A good rule of thumb: If your friend next to you on the bus can hear the music coming from your headphones, it’s a good idea to lower the volume.

Watch: How to boost your mood

Bad moods are bad news. Learn what you can do to boost your mood and feel better!

More women's health tips

Tune up your health with music
5 Fun ways to boost your health
Tips to stay focused on fitness