Listening to music while working out helps people with severe lung disease

December 02, 2002

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Researchers believe that listening to music helped people with severe respiratory disease increase their fitness levels, based on the results of a new study.

Subjects with serious lung disease who listened to music while walking covered an average of 19 total miles over the course of an eight-week exercise intervention study. In comparison, the group that didn't listen to music only walked an average of 15 total miles - 21 percent less - by the end of the study.

That four-mile difference is significant, said Gerene Bauldoff, a study co-author and an assistant professor of nursing at Ohio State University.

It suggests that participants in the music group may have felt less hindered by shortness of breath, the primary physical symptom of serious lung disease.

"Music could help distract people with serious lung disease from certain negative physical symptoms," Bauldoff said. "The positive effects of increased exercise spilled over into other areas of the participants' lives -- they were better able to handle routine daily activities and, in turn, retain a good degree of independence."

At several points during the study, participants were timed to see how much distance they could walk in six minutes. By the end of the study, the subjects who listened to music while walking for exercise increased the distance they covered per walk by 445 feet (136 meters), while the average distance covered by the non-music group decreased by 169 feet (51 meters) per walk.

"Other research has shown that an increase or decrease of 177 feet (54 meters) in walking distance reflects significant physical change that a patient can notice," Bauldoff said.

The research appears in a recent issue of the journal Chest. Bauldoff conducted the study as a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing.

Study participants were divided into two groups of 12 patients. Each patient had already completed a six- to eight-week pulmonary rehabilitation program in the three months prior to the study.

"The first three months following pulmonary rehabilitation are critical - this is when patients are most likely to drop an exercise routine," she said.

During the eight-week study, participants kept journals of how often they walked and for how long. Participants were encouraged to walk for at least 20 minutes two to five times a week. Subjects in the music group were given a portable audiocassette player and two audiocassette tapes containing country/western, classical, pop/Motown and big band music. All subjects were given an electronic pedometer to wear while walking, which measured walking distance to 0.01 mile.

So that the researchers could gauge changes in fitness levels from the beginning to the end of the study, the subjects were required to perform two six-minute walks three times during the trial: at the beginning of the study and at weeks four and eight. The six-minute walk is a standard test used to evaluate the physical endurance of people with chronic lung disease. At each visit, the researchers recorded the greater of the two distances the participant covered.

At the end of each six-minute walk, the researchers asked participants how tired or out of breath they felt. The subjects also filled out questionnaires on anxiety, depression and quality of life during each visit.

By the end of the study, the total walking distance covered by the music group was 24 percent higher than that walked by the non-music group (19.1 vs. 15.4 total miles).

This translated into an average increase of 445 total feet (136 meters) walked per workout in the music group, from 1,022 feet to 1,467 feet covered. The average distance covered by the non-music group decreased by about 170 feet (51 meters), from 1,129 feet to 960 feet.

"That's pretty dramatic, considering that something as simple and cost-effective as music helped improved these patients' fitness levels," Bauldoff said.

She and her colleagues aren't certain why there was such a large difference between the groups in distance walked, but the researchers do think that music helped subjects walk at a greater velocity.

"Increased velocity may enhance the effects of training, leading to physical differences in a relatively short time," she said.

The participants in the music group also reported less trouble with shortness of breath during routine activities, such as bathing, combing their hair and cooking meals. Participants in the non-music group didn't report any change in breathing.

"A person with lung disease can develop symptoms so severe that she abandons daily routine activities," Bauldoff said. "She becomes disabled. But if that can be reversed first with a rehabilitation program, and followed up with an individual exercise program that includes music, she could very well retain her independence."

While both groups reported a decrease in symptoms of depression, the music group reported fewer bouts of depression by the end of the study.

"Giving people with chronic lung disease some sort of auditory distraction as a way to encourage exercise seemed to improve their functional performance," Bauldoff said. "The music group ultimately reported fewer problems with shortness of breath, suggesting that there might be an effect on stress levels."

Bauldoff is continuing her research on interventions that could improve and help maintain physical functioning in people with chronic lung disease. The next step is to identify whether the use of distraction during exercise has any bio-behavioral effects, such as reducing physical signs of stress and, in turn, if this helps boost immune function.


The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Bauldoff co-authored the study with Leslie Hoffman and Thomas Zullo, both with the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing and Frank Sciurba, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Written by Holly Wagner; 614-292-8310;

Ohio State University

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