By Omar Shamout

It's said that music is a universal language. No matter what part of the world they call home, anyone can connect with a good song. And The New York Times reports that new research has confirmed that music is not only appreciated by our minds, but by our bodies as well. It may sound like common sense, but scientists have proven that music can motivate you not only to work harder during exercise, but also to enjoy it more. You achieve the best results during a workout when your target heart rate matches a song's tempo (also measured in BPMs), making the music feel like a natural, organic extension of you.

Figuring out new ways to liven up your exercise time is a smart and fun way to stay motivated. It's easy to create a playlist fairly quickly that has a sustained tempo that matches the pace of your run, bike ride, or preferred form of cardio. Let's break down the necessary steps for creating a music playlist that's individually tailored to your body, heart rate, and level of intensity.
  1. Identify your workout goals. Before calculating your target heart rate, you first have to establish what you're trying to accomplish with your workout. For instance, people who are only interested in losing weight will have a different target heart rate than athletes looking to train for a 10K or triathlon, and their recommended durations at these rates will also differ. Beachbody® advises you to consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program to help you figure out what the best approach to exercise will be for you and your specific needs.
  2. Find your "zone." If burning fat is your goal, you'll want to spend the longest duration of your workout in the "Temperate Zone," or 60 percent to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. Thirty minutes of cardio at this level three times a week combined with a heart-healthy diet will have you shedding the pounds in no time. If you're just starting out, this is a fantastic goal to set for yourself. On your off days, try a low-intensity walk for 20 to 30 minutes to keep up your activity level. If you have better endurance and more experience working out, you'll benefit from spending more time in the "Aerobic Zone," or 70 percent to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, during which your lung capacity and blood vessels expand, before you move into the "Anaerobic Zone," or 80 percent to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate, where your muscles learn to work with less oxygen and you really build your stamina. We recommend meeting with a personal trainer at least once to tailor a cardio regimen with built-in intervals designed specifically for your body that will help you meet your goals.
  3. Calculate your target heart rate. The American Heart Association provides this chart of age-specific target heart rates, or the zone in which our bodies are most geared toward burning fat:

    Age Target HR Zone 50-85% Average Maximum 100%
    20 years 100–170 beats per minute 200 beats per minute
    25 years 98–166 beats per minute 195 beats per minute
    30 years 95–162 beats per minute 190 beats per minute
    35 years 93–157 beats per minute 185 beats per minute
    40 years 90–153 beats per minute 180 beats per minute
    45 years 88–149 beats per minute 175 beats per minute
    50 years 85–145 beats per minute 170 beats per minute
    55 years 83–140 beats per minute 165 beats per minute
    60 years 80–136 beats per minute 160 beats per minute
    65 years 78–132 beats per minute 155 beats per minute
    70 years 75–128 beats per minute 150 beats per minute

    Now that you know what you're aiming for, try using a trusted heart rate monitor to get a truly accurate readout of your heart's BPM. You could do it the old-fashioned way by feeling your pulse for 10 seconds, then multiplying it by 6, but we all know how awkward that is to pull off in the middle of a workout. Plus, one less reason to do math in your head is always welcome, right?
  4. Calculate the BPM of your music.

    In its endless wisdom, Apple has conveniently added a BPM tag to the description of each song in your library. You can access this feature by highlighting the chosen song and either right-clicking it to access the "Get Info" option on the menu bar that appears, or finding "Get Info" on the "File" pull-down menu at the top left of the screen. Once you're in the "Get Info" pop-up window, select the "Info" tab. Here, you'll find all available details about the song, including BPM. If that sounds far too easy and convenient to be true, well, it is. Most digital music files (MP3s) contain no BPM information at all, and if they do it's probably inaccurate. You'll probably need to download one of the following applications:

    Windows XP and Vista users should try downloading this free application, which will automatically analyze all the music in your library to detect the BPM. What's more, BeatScanner is specifically designed for the exercise enthusiast, and will change the pace of any song you select (without altering the pitch or quality) to your desired BPM, so that you can export it as a new MP3 file, and walk, jog, run, or bike at your preferred speed, and still listen to your favorite tracks! How cool is that? But wait, there's more. Creating a playlist with BeatScanner is very easy, and it also allows you to insert your own interval cues at desired points in the playlist so that you'll know when to step it up a gear, or slow it down a notch. Pretty soon, you'll start to wonder how you lived without it!

    Mac users are advised to try Tangerine, which is a program similar to BeatScanner, but is much more integrated with iTunes itself. The only catch here is that Tangerine costs $24.95 to download. Because Tangerine is synced with your iTunes, it will automatically analyze your entire library, as well as any new music you add to it, in a manner of minutes. The playlist creation feature is also very convenient, and allows you to organize songs according to your desired BPM range. However, it doesn't allow you to alter the pace of songs the way BeatScanner does. Luckily, there's a 15-day free trial option that should give you enough time to decide if it's worth the money.
If any of our readers would like to recommend other BPM-analyzing programs for either PC or Mac, please feel free to share in the comments below!

There's no reason at all for a workout to be boring, and we strive to give you new and interesting ways to stay focused and committed to the idea of fitness, and to provide you with all the tools and information you need to enact them in your own life. So take advantage of the technology available and create a personal power mix for your iPod that'll keep your workout in high gear!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Beachbody programs like TurboFire® and Hip Hop Abs®, have all their music tracks mixed so you get the maximum BPM benefits.