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Walking may boost cognitive task performance: Study

by Pragati Singh

The findings of researchers from the University of Rochester’s Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience appear to contradict the notion that when walking is mixed with a task, both suffer.

By altering the usage of brain resources, some young and healthy persons increase their performance on cognitive activities while walking. This does not, however, imply that you should focus on a major task while walking off the cake from the night before.

“There was no predictor of who would fall into which category before we tested them; we initially thought that everyone would respond similarly,” said Eleni Patelaki, a biomedical engineering PhD student in the Frederick J. and Marion A. Schindler Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and first author of the study published in Cerebral Cortex.

“It was interesting that some of the individuals found it simpler to accomplish dual-tasking (doing more than one job) than single-tasking (doing each activity individually). This was intriguing and unexpected because most research in the field demonstrate that the more activities we have to execute at the same time, the worse our performance becomes.”

Researchers used the Mobile Brain/Body Imaging system, or MoBI, to track the brain activity, kinematics, and behaviour of 26 healthy 18 to 30-year-olds while they viewed a series of pictures while sitting in a chair or jogging on a treadmill. Each time the picture changed, participants were prompted to push a button. Participants were urged not to click if the same image presented twice in a row.

Each participant’s performance in this activity while seated was designated their specific behavioural “baseline.” When walking was introduced to the same task, researchers discovered that various behaviours emerged, with some persons performing worse than their sitting baseline – as predicted based on past studies – but others improving.

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The electroencephalogram, or EEG, data revealed that the 14 people who improved at the walking task exhibited a shift in frontal brain activity that was not seen in the 12 persons who did not improve. This difference in brain activity observed in individuals who performed better on the test implies higher brain flexibility or efficiency.

“There were no visible differences between our individuals. We didn’t discover the surprise variation in the group’s neural signature and what helps them perform difficult dual-tasking activities differently until we started researching their behaviour and brain activity “Patelaki explained. “These discoveries have the potential to be developed and applied to groups where we know that brain resource flexibility is reduced.”

This research was directed by Edward Freedman, PhD, associate professor of Neuroscience at the Del Monte Institute, and it continues to explore how the MoBI is assisting neuroscientists in discovering the processes at action when the brain performs several tasks. His prior research emphasised the adaptability of a healthy brain, demonstrating that the more challenging the job, the greater the neurophysiological difference between walking and sitting.

“These new findings demonstrate that the MoBI can show us how the brain responds to walking and how the brain responds to the task,” added Freedman. “This provides us a starting point for examining in the brains of older folks, particularly healthy ones.”

Influence of walking on Age

Extending this study to older persons might help scientists uncover a possible sign for’super agers,’ or people who show just a minor loss in cognitive abilities. This marker might aid in improved understanding of what is wrong with neurodegenerative disorders.

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