Mental effort may improve exercise performance

6 Jul

There is a growing literature on how exercise might improve cognition. Here is research that suggests the reverse, mental effort may improve exercise performance

“A new study shows that people on a stationary bike pedaled faster when they simultaneously tackled some sort of mental test.”

Here is the abstract from the study:


When performing two tasks at once, a dual task, performance on one or both tasks typically suffers. People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) usually experience larger dual task decrements on motor tasks than healthy older adults (HOA). Our objective was to investigate the decrements in cycling caused by performing cognitive tasks with a range of difficulty in people with PD and HOAs.


Twenty-eight participants with Parkinson’s disease and 20 healthy older adults completed a baseline cycling task with no secondary tasks and then completed dual task cycling while performing 12 tasks from six cognitive domains representing a wide range of difficulty.


Cycling was faster during dual task conditions than at baseline, and was significantly faster for six tasks (all p<.02) across both groups. Cycling speed improved the most during the easiest cognitive tasks, and cognitive performance was largely unaffected. Cycling improvement was predicted by task difficulty (p<.001). People with Parkinson’s disease cycled slower (p<.03) and showed reduced dual task benefits (p<.01) than healthy older adults.


Unexpectedly, participants’ motor performance improved during cognitive dual tasks, which cannot be explained in current models of dual task performance. To account for these findings, we propose a model integrating dual task and acute exercise approaches which posits that cognitive arousal during dual tasks increases resources to facilitate motor and cognitive performance, which is subsequently modulated by motor and cognitive task difficulty. This model can explain both the improvement observed on dual tasks in the current study and more typical dual task findings in other studies.”


3 Responses to “Mental effort may improve exercise performance”

  1. enrique July 6, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

    I better keep walking in the mornings!

    • jecgenovese July 8, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

      Definitely! I walk on treadmill every morning and use the time to listen to language tapes.

      • enrique July 8, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

        My problem is that I hate treadmills! But I do get lots of walking on my campus

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