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Multitasking Can Help Make Your Workout More Effective

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It’s no secret that a good distraction, like listening to music on a treadmill or reading on a stationary bike, can make exercise more bearable. But, it turns out that multitasking also has the power to boost your performance.

In a study from the University of Florida, adults who were asked to complete mental tasks while pedaling on stationary bikes were shown to move faster with no negative impact on their cognitive performance. Tasks ranged in difficulty from saying “go” when a blue star appeared on a screen to reciting increasingly long lists of numbers in the the reverse order of how they were presented. Cycling speeds increased by 25 percent when participants were given the simplest tasks, and became gradually slower as the problems became more difficult. But even when faced with the hardest task, cyclists were just as fast as they had been with no distraction at all.

These findings may come as no surprise to experienced fitness junkies, but for the researchers it was a revelation. Past studies on the effects of multitasking almost always showed that it leads to a decrease in performance all around, and it now it looks like exercise is the major exception to that rule. 

The study was originally conducted to show the negative impact of multitasking in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Researchers looked at 28 participants with the neurodegenerative disorder and 20 healthy older adults. While the Parkison’s patients didn’t speed up to the same degree as the control group and were slower overall, scientists didn’t see the decrease in performance that they had been expecting.

Researchers suspect that one factor behind the results is the combined arousal the participants experienced from exercising and anticipating a difficult cognitive task. Arousal boosts the brain’s speed and efficiency, improving both motor and cognitive performance. The scientists behind the study plan to look into this topic further and extend their research to other types of exercise, but for now it looks like there's no harm in playing games on your smartphone at the gym.

[h/t: EurekAlert]

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Where in the U.S. People Aren't Getting Enough Exercise, Mapped
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The U.S. is a notoriously sedentary country. A huge portion of the population doesn't meet the government's recommendations for physical activity, and that can have some serious ramifications for public health. But not everyone is equally sedentary. Physical activity rates can vary significantly from state to state, as a CDC report spotted by Thrillist illustrates.

The U.S. government currently recommends that adults squeeze in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, plus two days a week of "muscle strengthening activities" like weight lifting or calisthenics. Across the board, the number of Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 who actually meet that recommendation hovers at around 23 percent, but some states are much more physically active than others. (Men were also more likely to meet the recommendation than women, and working people were more likely than non-working people to get the recommended amounts of exercise.) The map below draws on data from the 2010 to 2015 National Health Interview Surveys, part of which included questions about exercise habits.

A color-coded map of activity rates in the U.S. with active states in blue and inactive states in red
Age-adjusted percentages of adults aged 18–64 who met federal guidelines for physical activity from 2010-2015
National Center of Health Statistics

Some of the states with the highest rates of exercise are ones we already associate with health and outdoor activity. California, for instance, scores relatively high, with 24 percent of adults meeting the guidelines. Colorado has the highest percentage, at 32.5 percent. Meanwhile, the South, a region already associated with high rates of obesity and poor public health, has some of the lowest activity rates, including 13.5 percent in Mississippi.

It's not just a matter of region, though. Much of the Midwest, including Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri, is at or slightly above the national average, while South Dakota is far below average. New York has a very low activity rate (18.9 percent) while next door, Pennsylvania has a much higher rate of 25.6 percent.

Even in more active states, these numbers may look exceedingly low. If—at the very best—less than a third of adults get enough exercise, that's bad news. But take a few caveats into account before you go judging the entire country as a bunch of couch potatoes. These are broad recommendations, and don't necessarily reflect everyone's health needs; people who are injured, disabled, or chronically ill, for example, aren't going to be able to go for hour-long runs every week, and they shouldn't.

Plus, there are some gaps in this data. The survey relates specifically to leisure time exercise, meaning that it can't reflect the full activity levels of people who have physically demanding jobs. If you're a door-to-door canvasser who walks all day, a yoga teacher, or a UPS driver who lugs boxes around, the bulk of your physical activity might not happen in your down time, but that doesn't mean you're not exercising. Commute time doesn't count as leisure, either, so the results don't factor in the exercise you might get if you bike or walk to work each day.

That said, there is plenty of other evidence that Americans spend too much time in their cars and in front of screens and not enough time moving. The problem is just much worse in Indiana than in Colorado.

[h/t Thrillist]

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More Than 75 Percent of Americans Don't Exercise Enough
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If you're like the majority of Americans, you're probably not exercising enough. According to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported by Fortune, less than a quarter of U.S. adults met the recommended amount of weekly aerobic and muscle-building activity between 2010 and 2015 [PDF].

The leisure exercise guidelines the CDC referenced were set in 2008: They suggest that adults complete at least 150 minutes of "moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity" a week, 75 minutes of "vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity," or a mix of the above. Just 22.9 percent of adults ages 18 to 64 met this criteria. For men, the national average was 27.2 percent, and for women, it was 18.7 percent.

The CDC study, which was released June 28, also broke down exercise habits by state. Colorado came in as the most active state, with 32.5 percent of residents meeting the exercise standards—nearly 10 percent more than the national average. People in Mississippi were the least likely to work out enough, with the average there coming out to just 13.5 percent.

Map of how much people exercise.
CDC

While the CDC's study only looked at leisure exercise, it's possible the results would have been different if it had also looked at the physical labor we do for our jobs, or just the walks we take on our commutes. The CDC points out that people with physically demanding jobs or those who bike or walk to get around may be less likely to exercise in their free time, even if they're technically more active overall than the people who do.

No matter how you compare to the CDC's standards, it never hurts to find room in your schedule for more exercise. Not only does working out have physical health benefits, but it can improve your mental health as well by boosting your energy and helping you fight stress. Here are some tips for creating a fitness routine if you don't have one already.

[h/t Fortune]

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