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Multitasking Can Make You Quicker on a Stationary Bike

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Multitasking is generally a bad idea: Study after study has shown that no matter how good you think you are at it, trying to do two things at once actually causes you to do both things worse. And the gym might be the worst place to try it—choosing a song on the treadmill or flipping through this month’s Shape on the elliptical will most definitely cause your sweat session to suffer…right?

Turns out, there’s one exception to the rule: multitasking on a stationery bike. A new University of Florida study has found that when people try to cycle and complete a task that required thought, their speed actually improved while multi-tasking. (Try this Spin to Slim Workout Plan.)

Researchers looked at people with Parkinson's disease and healthy older adults and found that, while the Parkinson's group cycled slower, the healthy group actually cycled about 25 percent faster while doing the easiest cognitive tasks. They became slower as the mental effort became more difficult, but this speed wasn’t any slower than when they started, distraction-free.

The findings also hold true for younger cyclists, as previous research from the same team found a multitasking benefit on spinning college students. But cycling while distracted actually gets better with age, as older adults saw more of an improvement in their speed, says study co-author Lori Altmann, Ph.D. (Try these Instructor Secrets to Burn More Calories in Spin Class.)

Interestingly, the results don’t hold true on an elliptical or treadmill. “Cycling is a lot easier than walking because you don’t have to manage balance demands since you’re sitting, and you don’t have to move your feet independently,” explains Altmann. “When you cycle, the pedals also cue you when to move and how much to move, so it's much easier.” It’s the combination of these easy, guided movements specific to a bike and easier tasks that allows you to get the most out of multitasking. 

Good thing our June issue just hit stands—guess today is bike day.

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