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Upbeat music boosts exercise time during cardiac stress testing

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Encouraging patients to listen to music during a standard cardiac stress test can help extend the time someone is able to perform the test, according to US researchers.

As a result, the tactic can help yield more important information about an individual’s heart health and capacity for exercise, they said at an American College of Cardiology conference.

“I think it’s something we intuitively knew, but we found it to be true”

Waseem Shami

While earlier research has looked at how music might influence specific markers of heart health, the new study is the first to evaluate its impact on exercise tolerance during cardiac stress testing.

On average, people who listened to music during the test were able to exercise for almost one minute longer than those who did not have tunes playing in their ears, said the researchers.

They are often done on a treadmill or stationary bike, while a person has electrodes placed on their chest to record the heart’s activity.

In the study, patients scheduled for a routine electrocardiogram (ECG) treadmill stress test were informed about the research and asked if they would participate.

A total of 127 patients, aged 53 on average, were randomly assigned to either listen to up-tempo music – mostly Latin-inspired music – or have no music playing during their stress tests.

“I suspect if it had been a larger study, we’d see a bigger difference”

Waseem Shami

The staff, clinicians and all participants wore headphones during their test, which, other than that, was conducted as usual in the clinic.

Researchers collected and analysed demographic data, vital signs and treadmill end points – for example, exercise time, maximum heart rate achieved and symptoms.

Exercise time was significantly longer in the music group compared with the control group, 505.8 versus 455.2 seconds, respectively – an absolute difference of about 50.6 seconds.

In addition, there was a non-significant trend toward longer metabolic equivalent of task – a ratio of the rate of energy expended during an activity to the rate of energy used at rest – when compared with the non-music group.

There were no differences in how often patients were able to reach their maximal target heart rate goal between the two groups, said the researchers.

Although the study involved patients undergoing cardiac stress testing, the study authors also suggested the findings could apply more widely to help motivate people to take part in regular exercise for heart health.

Lead study author Dr Waseem Shami, a cardiology fellow at Texas Tech University Health Sciences in El Paso, said: “I think it’s something we intuitively knew, but we found [it to be true]. I suspect if it had been a larger study, we’d see a bigger difference.”

“Our findings reinforce the idea that upbeat music has a synergistic effect in terms of making you want to exercise longer and stick with a daily exercise routine,” he said.

He added: “At least on a small scale, this study provides some evidence that music may help serve as an extra tool to help motivate someone to exercise more, which is critical to heart health.”

The new research was presented last month at the American College of Cardiology’s annual conference in Orlando, Florida.

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