Research Article: Tolerance to exercise intensity modulates pleasure when exercising in music: The upsides of acoustic energy for High Tolerant individuals

Date Published: March 1, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Mauraine Carlier, Yvonne Delevoye-Turrell, Lutz Jaencke.


Moderate physical activity can be experienced by some as pleasurable and by others as discouraging. This may be why many people lack sufficient motivation to participate in the recommended 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise per week. In the present study, we assessed how pleasure and enjoyment were modulated differently by one’s tolerance to self-paced physical activity. Sixty-three healthy individuals were allocated to three independent experimental conditions: a resting condition (watching TV), a cycling in silence condition, and a cycling in music condition. The tolerance threshold was assessed using the PRETIE-Questionnaire. Physical activity consisted in cycling during 30 minutes, at an intensity perceived as “somewhat difficult” on the Ratings of Perceived Exertion Scale. While controlling for self-reported physical activity level, results revealed that for the same perception of exertion and a similar level of enjoyment, the High Tolerance group produced more power output than the Low Tolerance group. There was a positive effect of music for High Tolerant individuals only, with music inducing greater power output and more pleasure. There was an effect of music on heart rate frequency in the Low Tolerant individuals without benefits in power output or pleasure. Our results suggest that for Low Tolerant individuals, energizing environments can interfere with the promised (positive) distracting effects of music. Hence, tolerance to physical effort must be taken into account to conceive training sessions that seek to use distracting methods as means to sustain pleasurable exercising over time.

Partial Text

Tolerance to exercise intensity is a trait that influences one’s ability to continue exercising at levels of intensity associated with discomfort and displeasure [1]. As much as there are individuals who like vigorous training sessions and will tolerate high sensory stimulation or pain to some extent (the “Feel strong” profile), many inactive individuals will consider engaging in a physical exercise only at a slow and leisure pace to avoid senses of fatigue, exhaustion or breathlessness. For these reasons, distracting methods (using music and videos) have been developed to decrease the perception of exertion and enhance positive affective states and moods during exercise [2,3,4,5]. Nevertheless, in a typical week, 60% of adults in Europe admit engaging in no physical exercise at all [6]. Worse yet, in the low number of people who choose to initiate a regular program of physical activity, a high rate of dropout has been estimated to be approximately 50% within the first few months [7]. As pleasure seems to be a key feature in motivating exercising, the aim of this study was to assess the effects of a distracting musical environment on the pleasure and the enjoyment experienced during the practice of self-paced cycling activities in sedentary active and inactive individuals.

In the present study, we proposed a self-paced cycling activity to both active and inactive sedentary individuals. Using the Ratings of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE), we allowed participants to set exercise intensity to their own perception of exertion and contrasted power output and affective states when participants were cycling in silence and cycling in music. The main results of our work showed that both High and Low Tolerant participants reported to have (1) exercised at a moderate intensity felt as « somewhat difficult », i.e., RPE 13 on the 6–20 Borg Scale and (2) invested the task at a similar degree of implication. Thanks to the use of a control condition during which participants cycled in silence, we confirmed that the RPE scale can be used as a subjective guide to gauge effort both by High and Low Tolerant individuals as they self-paced the cycling activity to produce similar levels of power output, at the beginning of the session. These results confirm previous studies showing that non-athletes men and women are able to self-regulate physical effort on the basis of a score selected on the RPE scale [37,26]. However, it is during the course of the physical practice that differences between the two groups of participants emerged.

High and Low Tolerant individuals participated in a production-mode protocol in which they were asked to cycle at a moderate intensity felt as « somewhat difficult » (RPE13 on the Borg scale). We show that music is a booster for High Tolerant individuals: the musical environment gave them the ability to produce greater power output while experiencing even more pleasure than when cycling in silence. Low Tolerant individuals experienced with music an increase in heart rate frequency without gain in power output or pleasure, suggesting distress and discomfort when practicing in an energizing environment. Interestingly, music brought greater pleasure to the High than to the Low Tolerant participants even if both groups reported similar levels of enjoyment (PACES at the end of the session). Hence, pleasure and enjoyment may be two different concepts [64] that should be dissociated when seeking to develop pleasurable sports. Additional studies are needed to reveal which of pleasure or enjoyment is the key to promote durable motivation to an active life style in individuals with high and low tolerance to exercise intensity.




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