Do you use your exercise time, whether aerobics, or working out at the gym, as a time also to think deeply? A new research study from the University of Cambridge (England) suggests that if you want to maximize your muscular results, that you should avoid deep thinking during heavy exercising.
The study involved 62 collegiate rowers, who were tested in the laboratory under three different conditions. In the first test, they were shown dozens of words on a screen for 3 minutes, and instructed to memorize as many words as they could. Then they wrote down all the words they could remember.
In the second part of the test, on another day, they rowed on a rowing machine as hard as they could for 3 minutes. During this time, their muscular power output was measured. In the third part of the test, they rowed intensively for three minutes while at the same time they tried to memorize a new list of words on a screen. Then they wrote down all the words they could remember.
The researchers compared their performance during the three conditions. Almost all the men, when they did the rowing and memorizing at the same time, did worse on both their muscular power output as well as on their ability to memorize words.
Mental power dropped more than muscular power
When the rowers did both activities at the same time, their muscular power output dropped by 13 percent. But their ability to memorize the words dropped by 30 percent. So while both their mental power as well as their muscular power dropped when they tried to do both at the same time, their mental abilities dropped much more than their muscular abilities.
Why the body favors the muscles
When we think intensively, our brains use lots of energy in the form of glucose from the blood—deep thinking is actually hard work! Exercise is also hard work, and our muscles demand lots of glucose fuel from our blood when we exercise. But seemingly, when the body has to exercise both the brain and the muscles at the same time, the body favors the muscles over the brain.
The Cambridge researchers believe the reason the body gives more importance to the muscles during complex activities is that our muscles were, in an evolutionary sense, more important than our brains. When early man was threatened with a foe—say a large prey animal —his muscles gave him more survival advantage than his brain. Running away or climbing a tree was more important at that moment than thinking.
If you believe the results of this study, to maximize your muscular performance, you should not be intensively thinking during heavy exercise. Deep thinking will cause resources of your body to shift from your muscles to your brain, but your mental abilities will not be as sharp during exercise either.
Walking and thinking may be best
Note that the current study involved intense exercise. Other research has shown that mild exercise in the form of walking, is actually helps your brain function, enhancing thinking and creativity. So avoid heavy exercise if you have to think clearly. Do what Steve Jobs did—combine creative thinking with walking.
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