“Get into the groove,” pop icon Madonna sang back in the 1980s. It seems this was good advice for many reasons: this tune could, without one even being aware of it, provide a boost to cognitive function.
At least, this is according to findings of a new study by researchers at the University of Tsukuba, Japan. They suggest that the act of exercising in sync with a rhythm enhances the function of the prefrontal cortex, the brain region associated with decision making, emotional control, working memory, concentration and attention.
However, it’s not a question of just listening to any music while you exercise: it’s what the researchers are calling “groove rhythm” (GR) that promotes such beneficial effects on the brain.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, groove is “a musical rhythm that is enjoyable and makes you want to move or dance” – often associated with genres like rock and funk, for example, but not exclusively.
“Listening to rhythmic music, particularly music with a pronounced groove, elicits a heightened sense of excitement, prompting individuals to instinctively move their bodies in sync with the rhythm,” the researchers wrote in a press release. They state that “this natural tendency to move in harmony with music” is the very essence of groove.
Building on earlier work that showed simply listening to groove rhythm, without exercise, can boost executive function in the prefrontal cortex, the scientists turned their attention to the potential synergy between GR and physical activity.
Their aim was to determine whether this combination could enhance the cognitive benefits, as well as the enjoyment, of exercise, even when practised in moderation.
The researchers thus invited 48 participants aged between 18 and 26 to do three minutes of “very light”-intensity aerobic exercise to music with groove rhythm. At the end of the experiment, participants who reported their bodies “resonating with the rhythm” during this exercise session indeed showed enhanced executive function in the prefrontal cortex.
“These findings, together with previous results, support the hypothesis that groove rhythm allows us to boost the cognitive benefits of exercise,” wrote the authors of this study, published in the journal Neuroscience.
They concluded: “Investigating the impact of GR-based activity is expected to introduce ‘enriched-exercise’ as an enjoyable, motivating, and efficient approach for enhancing brain function.” All the more reason to get your groove on!