Are You Jymmin?

Pain is often a consequence of illness, injury or intense physical exercises. A lot of adults suffer chronic pain and feel constrained by it. There are several options to help manage this. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig have found Jymmin as an alternative to painkillers or heat therapy. Jymmin, or jamming in the gym, is a mixture of working out on gym machines and free musical improvisation. It is a new fitness technology that makes us less sensitive to pain.

In Jymmin, fitness machines are modified in a way that movement strength on the abdominal trainer, pull bar or stepper creates a wide range of sounds. Software for music composition developed at MPI CBS and a related sensor system enable users to produce a unique accompaniment from each fitness machine. The exerciser becomes the composer and the machines their instruments.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science, led by Thomas Fritz, asked the participants to fill out a standardised medical questionnaire about their mental state. Then they were asked to choose between fitness machines such as a stomach trainer, a weight tower, or a stepper, and initiate a ten-minute workout. One group did their first workout on conventional fitness machines while listening passively to music. The second group started with the Jymmin machines and actively produced music while they were exercising. After the first workout, the participants once again recorded their mood on a questionnaire, and then swapped with the other group for a second ten-minute workout.

The researchers found that actively making music during physical exertion improves mood to a far greater extent than listening to music passively. When the participants began their workout on the Jymmin machines they retained their good mood even after the second workout during which they listened to music passively. “We found that Jymmin increases the pain threshold,” says Fritz. “On average, participants were able to tolerate 10% more pain from just ten minutes of exercise on our Jymmin machines, some of them even up to 50%.”

From previous studies neuroscientists already knew that sports increase our pain threshold. “Jymmin showed these effects to be even stronger compared to normal workouts,” Fritz states. After Jymmin, the participants were able to immerse their forearm into ice water of one degree Celsius for five seconds longer compared to a conventional exercise session. That means, Jymmin helped patients to reach their pain threshold later.

Scientists working with Fritz think one of the main reasons for this might be the increased release of endorphins: The higher their level, the more tolerant we are to pain. The combination of physical exertion and making music seems to trigger the release of endorphins in a particularly efficient way.

Interestingly, the effect size was dependent on the individual experience of pain. The participants with the highest pain threshold benefitted the most from this training method. A study with chronic pain patients furthermore seems to imply that Jymmin can also reduce anxiety, a contributor to chronic pain.

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