Multitasking does not hold the best reputation in the scientific community. It divides our attention and can make us less efficient. However, when it comes to walking, multitasking seems to make us more stable. In a study with 22 participants, researchers from the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester found that a healthy brain can easily “walk and talk” without compromising either activity.
“This research shows us that the brain is flexible and can take on additional burdens,” said the study’s first author David Richardson, in a statement. “Our findings showed that the walking patterns of the participants improved when they performed a cognitive task at the same time, suggesting they were actually more stable while walking and performing the task than when they were solely focused on walking.”
For their study, the researchers employed a device called Mobile Brain/Body Imaging system (MoBI) that integrates virtual reality, brain monitoring, and motion capture technology. The device recorded the study participants’ movements and brain activity while they either walked on a treadmill or sat down and then switched to a different task, like manipulating objects on a table.
The gathered data shows that the difference in brain activity between walking and sitting increased with the difficulty of the additionally performed task and that “gait pattern consistency improved when participants performed the most challenging block of the cognitive task, as compared to focusing solely on walking,” according to the study.
“The MoBI allows us to better understand how the brain functions in everyday life,” says the study’s lead author Edward Freedman. “Looking at these findings to understand how a young healthy brain is able to switch tasks will give us better insight to what’s going awry in a brain with a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s disease.”
“Understanding how a young healthy brain can successfully ‘walk and talk’ is an important start, but we also need to understand how these findings differ in the brains of healthy older adults, and adults with neurodegenerative diseases,” adds Richardson. “The next stage is expanding this research to include a more diverse group of brains.”
This study is published in the journal NeuroImage.