We’ve all seen those people at the gym who crack open a textbook or have their eyes glued to Gray’s Anatomy while on the treadmill—I have even found myself watching Bravo for the entirety of my elliptical session!
After the elliptical timer had finally run out and I was able to fixate my eyes off of Botched, I realized how fast my workout had flown by; it was almost as if Bravo had sped up my workout.
Because watching TV had accelerated my workout so much, I wondered if I had cheated the system. Does multitasking while exercising really have an impact on the workout? I asked myself. And, is the girl next to me studying with her index cards truly breaking a sweat and getting the most out of her workout?
Thankfully, studies have shown that doing easy, cognitive tasks while working out can have a positive effect on your sweat session.
The University of Florida conducted a study in which 20 older, healthy adults completed cognitive tasks while riding on a stationary bike. The objective was to investigate the decrements in cycling when performing cognitive tasks with a range of difficulty.
The study showed that the participants’ cycling speed actually increased while on the bike, while simultaneously not negatively affecting their cognitive performance.
The adults’ cycling speed increased about 25 percent while doing the easiest cognitive tasks, but decreased as they attempted more difficult tasks; however, this simply brought them back to their original distraction-free cycling speed. 6 out of 12 tasks were completed faster when complemented with multitasking.
These results were shocking to the University of Florida researchers. “We reran the statistics multiple times to be sure it was right, and it was,” says Dr. Lori Altmann, a speech and language professor at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions.
The science behind this traces back to arousal in the brain and the release of neurotransmitters. Exercise increases arousal in regions of the brain that control movement; the arousal then increases the release of neurotransmitters that improve brain speed and efficiency. Altmann believes this arousing effect in the brain could facilitate motor performance.
Go ahead, bring that textbook or the latest issue of People magazine to Ernie or Marshall Square Mall, because it turns out you truly can multitask your way to a successful, sweaty gym sesh.
By Gabriella Salkin