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Local Company Hopes To Use Music To Make Exercising Easier

Evening Edition

Above: The centers for disease control says most adults should get about 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. That's a tall order for some people to find the time and motivation to do it. A San Diego company has come up with a new smartphone app to help out.

You might not think an 80s rock ballad like “Highway to the Danger Zone” can make you a better runner. But San Diego entrepreneur Will Turner says it definitely can.

Turner started a company, PaceDJ, that uses a website and smartphone app to match music with a runner’s pace.

Aired 8/2/12 on KPBS News.

Will Turner started a company, PaceDJ, that uses a website and smartphone app to match music with a runner’s pace.

Will Turner, founder of PaceDJ.
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Above: Will Turner, founder of PaceDJ.

“A few years back I ran my first marathon, and this was before the smartphones, like iPhones and Android phones were available," Turner said. "I saw some people running with mp3 players and it made me wonder if it might be possible to create an Internet service to use music to help a person attain a target pace or tempo when they exercise.”

Like many with dreams of launching a startup, the 38-year-old technology specialist needed a boost. So he turned to San Diego Sport Innovators, a CONNECT Springboard program that coached him on how to start his company.

Since PaceDJ launched last year, Apple recognized it in the “new and noteworthy” category on its website.

The $2 app measures the pace of a runner, walker or biker while he exercises, or suggests an appropriate pace using a few questions on the PaceDJ website. It then looks through the music on the user's phone to find songs at the appropriate beat. Or, if the user doesn't have music on his phone, PaceDJ will recommend song playlists he can buy from iTunes or Amazon.

While there are similar websites and apps like Upbeat and JogTunes that also find songs to match your pace, Turner said PaceDJ is different.

“We’re a highly personalized service, we put control in the user’s hands to optimize their target pace or tempo,” he said. He added that PaceDJ hopes to partner with health care providers or employee wellness programs in the future.

I’ve covered hundred of miles since I started running after college, and have listened to music for most of them.

But when I tried out the PaceDJ app on my phone, it said most of the music I usually ran to was slower than my recommended 158 beats per minute. So I went to the PaceDJ website and downloaded a few of the songs they recommended for my pace. One of them was "Highway to the Danger Zone."

Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist at the National Academy of Sports Medicine, said there’s a lot of evidence music can help you run longer, or make you feel less tired than you really are. And he said music at the right tempo can distract you from the pain of exercising and amp you up.

“When you’re exercising, and there’s nothing to distract you, you can basically sit there and listen to your heart pounding, you can feel the perception of fatigue and the effort," he said. "So music becomes a good distractor.”

It helps so much, in fact, that Comana said some races and the U.S. Track and Field Association have banned music in part because its effects are almost like taking a performance-enhancing drug.

“It can influence your breathing rates, your heart rates, it distracts people from the effort so it feels like people can work out with less effort," he said. "These are all going to have a performance enhancing effect.”

Runners with the San Diego Running group.
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Above: Runners with the San Diego Running group.

But Edward Agunos, who heads the San Diego Running group, said he never listens to music while he runs.

“I don’t run with music mainly because I find it really distracting," he said. "I like to focus on certain things, I like to focus on my foot strike, I like to focus on my posture, I like to focus on my breathing, maybe if I’m carrying any tension in my body so I remain the most relaxed I can possibly be. I like to focus on those things, those things really matter when you’re digging deep. Music just takes away from that.”

Agunos said if he’s listening to music, it messes with his pace.

"When I listen to music, I find that when I hear a certain song with a certain tempo, my cadence sort of gravitates toward that tempo, which is an undesired result,” he said.

But Turner is betting a lot of people—including him—like listening to music when they run. And if they don’t run already, music might make getting started a little less painful.

“An application like PaceDJ can be useful to people who are already active, they can find benefits in using the app to influence their workout," he said. "But it might also be helpful to people who are not as healthy as they want to be, maybe they want to lose some weight, and they can turn to an app like PaceDJ as a tool to get started and have some fun and start exercising more.”

Here’s one thing I know for sure: If I keep running with music at the beat PaceDJ recommends, I’ll have to find something better to listen to than the theme song to Top Gun.

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