Doctor Q&A: Dr Costas Karageorghis

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Dr Costas Karageorghis is a Reader in Sport Psychology at Brunel University London. His latest book is published by Human Kinetics (2017) and titled Applying Music in Exercise and Sport. You can interact with Dr Karageorghis and his research group on Twitter: @SAVIBrunel

How important is synchronising your movement with music to get the most out of your work out?

It’s certainly the case that synching your movement with music, and particularly in a group scenario, unlocks a whole series of brain connections that are primeval and so the experience can be immensely rewarding. I would not say that synching is essential for a good workout but for those who struggle to adhere to exercise, it can have a profoundly positive influence.

Do you think exercise should be fun?

I am a proponent of the hedonistic approach to exercise and, for the general population at least, fun is an essential element of any exercise regimen. If it’s not fun, your affective memory – how you think you felt – will eventually lead you to discontinue the exercise. Having fun and enjoying meaningful relationships with other people are important determinants of exercise adherence

Do think sharing exercise experiences creates more commitment?

Where we share experiences with people who share are values/aspirations and they are also comparable to us in terms of their fitness level, this can certainly create greater commitment. You are far more likely to commit to an exercise session when you have an obligation to someone else than when you just try to fit it in whenever you can around your busy lifestyle. Commitment is inherent to the notion of a shared experience.

Do you think euphoric exercise can be curated by engaging the senses, for example adding music reactive visuals with music? In recent years, my research group at Brunel has been examining the effects of immersive exercise environments. This research started with large screens and blaring music, and has now progressed to the realm of virtual reality with the advent of new technologies. Exercise that engages the senses in a meaningful way and thus engenders a fullsynaesthetic experience can lead to a tremendous sense of pleasure and well-being.

Do you think immersion is a key driver in the future of fitness?

From the enquiries that we receive, it appears that the fitness industry is increasingly interested in immersive modes of physical activity. The tide of sedentariness and the problems we have with obesity in the western world might be addressed, in part, by finding novel modes of physical activity that are predicated on immersive experiences. I predict that synaesthetic engagement will revolutionise fitness over the next two decades in a manner akin to what Hollywood actress Jane Fonda did with exercise-to-music during the late 70s and through the 80s.

What do think happens when you add music reactive light to music during exercise? Reactive light heightens the experience of music because it engages a greater proportion of the brain in such a manner that the auditory and visual pathway stimulation is complementary in nature (like being in a confectionary shop and sampling the chocolate!). The combination of auditory and visual cues make it all the more easier to synch your movements to the beat and thus get ‘lost in music’. This means that the reactive light to music can help you enter a zen-like state that psychologists refer to as ‘flow’.

What about scent and music does this creative different endorphins? Scent is also a powerful stimulus but research into scent and exercise is only at a nascent stage (get the pun there?!). The initial research that I’ve read suggests that the smell of lavender is effective in diverting attention from the sensations of fatigue. It’s not the case that the scent creates “different endorphins”; some scents, however, might intensify the release of endorphins. This would need to be the subject of future scientific inquiry.

Can a playlist you have listened to previously enhance and prime your motivation to exercise? We create all sorts of associations with musical stimuli in our minds. Accordingly, if we’ve had a particularly good experience with a playlist – this can be socially or during exercise – when we hear it again, the memory centres of the brain are activated and it can engender a positive feeling. Of course, the converse also holds, and where we have negative associations with a particular playlist, it can create a string of negative emotions. Responsiveness to music is very individual indeed and it is the case that one person’s music can be another person’s noise. Nonetheless, music provides a ‘superhighway’ to our memories.

Do you think exercise can be playful & fun rather than serious & competitive? Exercise can be a ludic activity and, depending on how it’s organised and how the intensity is varied, can be great fun to participate in. Some people take exercise very seriously and push themselves to their physical limits. For the vast majority of the exercising public, a more playful/fun exercise experience is likely to result in higher levels of adherence. Ultimately, placing more emphasis on fun might have an enormous influence on the health of the nation.

We all know that exercise decreases anxiety but when in a worried mood how can we motivate ourselves to exercise? I would need to question the premise of your question! The exercise environment is well known for magnifying a phenomenon known as ‘social physique anxiety’. This is where people fear negative evaluation from others when showing their bodies or being active in a public forum such as a gym, exercise studio or swimming pool. If we focus just on getting out of a state of worry or depression, our research shows that happy music in a tempo range 90-120 bpm can function as an excellent primer. Music has a unique power in terms of modulating mood and to use this power at an advanced level, you can find a piece of music that reflects your current mood and then with additional pieces, take you towards your desired mood. There has been a great deal of research into mood regulation with music and in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Wolverhampton, we have developed and published the Music Mood-Regulation Scale to help people in their selection of music for this purpose (see http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/4625).