In the study of older adults, who completed cognitive tasks while cycling on a stationary bike, the researchers found that participants' cycling speed improved while multi-tasking with no cost to their cognitive performance.
The surprising discovery challenges the prevalent notion that multi-tasking causes one or both activities to suffer.
"Everybody has experienced walking somewhere in a hurry when the person in front of them pulls out a phone and that person just slows to a crawl. Frankly, that is what we were expecting," Altmann said.
During the study, 28 participants with Parkinson's disease and 20 healthy older adults completed 12 cognitive tasks while sitting in a quiet room and again while cycling.
Tasks ranged in difficulty from saying the word 'go' when a blue star was shown on a projection screen to repeating increasingly long lists of numbers in reverse order of presentation.
Participants' cycling speed was about 25 percent faster while doing the easiest cognitive tasks but became slower as the cognitive tasks became more difficult.
Yet, the hardest tasks only brought participants back to the speeds at which they were cycling before beginning the cognitive tasks.
The findings suggest that combining the easier cognitive tasks with physical activity may be a way to get people to exercise more vigorously.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
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