"The beat becomes very important anytime there is repetitive movement," Krikorian says. "Our instincts tell us to move to the beat. Our feet tell us to move to the beat."
The ideal cadence for running is a hotly debated topic in the running world, and variations in stride length mean finding your ideal tempo could take a bit of experimentation. Some sources say an eight-minute mile corresponds with a BPM of 170; others go up to 200. Some suggest the ideal running cadence is in the 170s to 180s. And some studies show that faster may be better for injury prevention.
If that sounds like too much work, try a group fitness class; cycling, step and aerobics instructors have been leveraging the power of the beat for years.
Ingrid Nelson, a cycling instructor who packs her tempo-driven classes at Washington's Biker Barre, says intensity, style and cadence are all important when putting together her playlists.
"I like a lot of '90s hip-hop and usually stay in the range of 95 to 105 BPM," Nelson says, aligning the beat to the cyclers' revolutions per minute. But she might go as low as 80 or as high as 120 BPM for hills and sprints, respectively. When drills are aligned with the beat, she says, participants "connect with music" and "relax into the pulse."
As for other fitness activities such as step aerobics, the tempo hovers around 130 BPM, says Harold Sanco, group fitness director and instructor at Results gym in Washington. "You have to pick music that is both safe and effective," he says. "If you are going too fast, you risk injury and you're not working out effectively because you are not getting the full range of motion."
But Sanco says music is important beyond tempo and genre; it also helps put participants in a lighter mood.