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Examining the Advantages & Disadvantages Of Multitasking During Exercise

Presently, multitasking while working out has become simpler—and more enticing—than ever before. This could involve watching TV while on the elliptical, scrolling through emails during clamshell exercises, or reading while cycling on a stationary bike. With the rise of home workout choices, the need to always be accessible, and the plethora of entertainment options at our disposal, it might seem like working out without incorporating another activity or consuming some content is a missed opportunity.

Nevertheless, numerous research studies have demonstrated that as individuals attempt to accomplish numerous tasks simultaneously, their performance generally diminishes, according to Darren Lumbard, a psychologist who aids athletes at Atlantic Sports Health. Multitasking during exercise can also present safety hazards and affect our ability to utilize working out as an escape or have a comprehensive mind-body experience.

When executed purposefully, multitasking doesn’t need to be negative, particularly if it motivates you to engage in a workout routine, as mentioned by Lumbard.

How to Ensure Multitasking Doesn’t Detract From Your Workout

1. Determine Your Objectives

The feasibility of multitasking during exercise highly relies on your workout goals and how you measure success. If you have specific fitness objectives such as improving running speed, cross-training for a sport, or enhancing upper-body strength, dedicating full attention to your workout is likely the optimal strategy to enhance performance, as per Lumbard. “Introducing multitasking hinders potential gains,” he points out.

If you view exercise as an escape or stress-reliever, watching TV or listening to a podcast might enhance your experience. However, responding to work emails would likely detract from this experience. Alternatively, if your aim is simply to make time for movement amidst a hectic schedule, staying updated on emails or listening to a presentation might facilitate your workout routine. According to Lumbard, this approach is better than not exercising at all.

2. Prioritize Safety

The workout type and your comfort level with the exercise will determine whether multitasking is safe. Caution is key when running on a treadmill or exercising outdoors. Intense workouts such as HIIT, Tabata, and weightlifting are not conducive to multitasking.

Even during low-impact exercises like Pilates, ensure that distractions do not compromise your form and potentially lead to injury. Cassey Ho, the founder of Blogilates, advises on selecting simple, repetitive movements for multitasking workouts. However, she stresses the importance of maintaining focus, particularly for beginners. Ho mentions the challenge of not being present to correct form in person.

If you are unfamiliar with a particular movement, even if it’s a straightforward exercise like using a stationary bike or elliptical, concentrate on the task to grasp it properly and avoid distractions. Mathew Welch, an exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery, recommends saving tasks like reading emails or sending texts for rest breaks between exercises, which should ideally be longer than perceived by most individuals.

3. Assess Your Well-Being

If you are uncertain about how watching TV or scrolling through social media during exercise impacts your performance, pay attention to how you feel during the workout. Ho suggests that altering the speed of podcasts can influence running pace positively. “Every stimulus your body and mind receive affects your workout,” she emphasizes.

Observe whether distractions like watching TV enhance your treadmill workout experience, or if reading emails while cycling leaves you feeling accomplished post-workout. Conversely, note if distractions lead to decreased output, stress, or feeling scattered. Lumbard emphasizes the positive stress management effects of exercise, cautioning against negating these benefits by getting stressed while multitasking.

If multitasking is a recurring pattern during your workouts, consider the reasons behind it and modify your routine accordingly. Should boredom or difficulty concentrating impede your workouts, adjustments may be necessary. Conversely, if time constraints or motivation are hindrances to exercise, multitasking can be a viable solution, as long as it is done safely, according to Lumbard.

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