Memory Mondays: Multitasking and the Brain

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There are various studies and opinions on the relationship between multitasking and the brain, some positive and others negative. One new study from UCLA, though, suggests that physical and mental multitasking may boost memory.

Completing memory training tasks while also pedaling a stationary bike resulted in significant memory gains, according to the findings. In fact, this form of multitasking yielded greater memory gains than doing the brain busters after a workout. The study makes the case that exercise may temporarily help the brain create new memories.

Over the years, researchers have revealed various lifestyle interventions that can improve memory in older adults, such as exercise and mental stimulation. Typically, studies explore the effects of such interventions separately. However, UCLA researchers sought to find out how different interventions interact.

To do so, the researchers monitored the cognitive performance of 55 adults from age 60 to age 75. They had mild memory impairments, but no signs of dementia. The adults were given standard tests of memory, learning, concentration and attention twice a week – 29 participants while riding stationary bikes, and 26 participants after an hour of cycling.

All participants completed the cognitive tests after the four-week study concluded. At this point, UCLA researchers discovered that everyone improved certain abilities. But those who simultaneously exercised and learned saw greater improvements in many memory, reasoning and attention skills. Specifically, they scored better on tests requiring them to recognize, remember and retrieve words and geometric figures.

“The findings, if replicated in larger studies, may lead to new types of programs to improve mental agility in older adults by combining mental training with physical fitness,” the study notes. “Future research is needed to show whether the results hold true in other scenarios and in larger groups of people.”