Does Playing Piano Count as Exercise?

Piano Player Wiping Sweat

Fitness trackers have become an ubiquitous part of the modern world. Watches, phones,  and chest straps are all keeping track of heart rate fluctuations and steps to keep ourselves in shape. While we know running and lifting weights are good forms of exercise, what about playing the piano?

The definition of exercise is activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness. So, does playing piano count as exerciese?

Piano certainly requires physical effort, not only in the fingers, but in the arms and abs as well. Demanding classical pieces and high energy rock n roll will certainly both cause the player to work up a sweat, so it is reasonable to say yes, playing piano does count as exercise. 

Can You Lose Weight By Playing The Piano

So even accepting that piano is a form of exercise, is that activity something you can count on to lose weight? I think it should be stated plainly that even if you can burn a bit of excess calories playing piano, and you can lose weight by playing the piano, it isn’t going to be the most streamlined way of reaching your goal weight. 

For the most part, the largest muscles in the body, the leg muscles, are largely inactive while playing piano, assuming you are seated as most are (the only real activity would be pedaling and stabilization as lean to the high and low end of the keybed). 

One of the hallmarks of good piano technique is keeping your arms as relaxed as possible, which is also working against you if your goal is losing weight. This will make the muscles such as the tricep and bicep, as well as back muscles, from firing in a manner that would require more energy expenditure. 

However, if you have ever watched a high level concert pianist, the performer is usually dripping in sweat by the end. Some of this may be explained by the lights or warm clothing, but undoubtedly there is an element of energy expenditure. 

Also if you watch an active keyboard player for a rock or electronic band, you will see they work much harder, as they are involving their whole body. So if you want to make it a workout, and have a keyboard with a stand that adjusts in height, stand up and play through an hour of your favorite songs while “performing!”

Another aspect that should be mentioned is that any activity that keeps your hands busy, also keeps you from eating. So piano compared, again, to sedimentary TV watching, will not only slightly increase energy expenditure, but will also have a better chance of keeping your from mindlessly consuming more calories, which can help you achieve weight loss. 

Is Playing Piano Good Exercise?

A common expression relating to exercise is “the best exercise is the exercise you’ll do.” So if the other option is sitting watching tv, reading a book, or browsing facebook, then practicing intensely on the piano will certainly be the better option in terms of exercise.  It is, however, not likely to raise your heart rate into the levels the heart needs to be raised to for optimum health.

I am a mid 30’s male in pretty good shape. I wore my fossil hybrid smartwatch while practicing which records heart rate. After a half hour of just playing (usually I like to sing at the same time but for the sake of this experiment I only played) my heart rate rose from a resting average of roughly 65, to an average of 79bpm. While this does represent a touch over 20% increase in heart rate, 79bpm is really not going to present much good for me. 

Piano playing is not a good form of exercise, but is better than nothing at all. It compares, in my heart rate test, to a casual stroll along the street, but falls behind even a brisk walk. If tracking calories is the objective, playing the piano should not be something recorded as it would only represent a minor increase over your base metabolic expenditure, and would more than likely cause your calorie intake to be skewed away from a caloric deficit. 

Looking at the gif below, you can see there is a lot of body involved in piano performance. If one plays piano with this type of intensity for a sustained amount of time whenever they play or practice, it is reasonable to believe that they will burn a fair bit of calories, and will get a good sweat and heart rate elevation.

Does Playing Piano Make Your Fingers Skinnier?

Playing piano will not make your fingers skinnier directly. This gets wrapped up into a fitness myth called “spot training.” This is the idea that someone who needs to lose 20lbs can achieve that weight loss all in the belly region by doing a lot of crunches. Furthermore, the action of pressing a piano key doesn’t take a tremendous amount of muscle contraction, and is less about muscle force as it is coordination and precision. 

If piano playing is combined with a diet and other forms of exercise, the fingers will lose fat in the same way the rest of the body does. The energy demands will cause fatty acid molecules to be released into the bloodstream to be converted into energy. The body will take the fatty acids from wherever they are stored, including and eventually the fingers, if fatty stores are available there. Elton John, one of the most famous piano players in the world, isn’t known for tremendously skinny fingers, despite playing hours and hours of piano per day. 

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