Doing It All…At Once? Multitasking and Your Health

August 16, 2010 | By | Comments (0)

I was jogging the other day, feeling pretty awesome about myself for merely getting out of the house for the run, considering how beastly hot it was. Not just hot, but nearly 100% humidity. Super-sauna weather. And then I saw another jogger that made me feel not QUITE as self-satisfied. She was also jogging, but she was pushing a baby in a stroller, and holding onto the leash of her lab-mix dog, AND wearing a pair of those barefoot running shoes I blogged about a few weeks ago. Oh AND, she blew past me so fast!

While that's just never going to be me—for one thing, my mutt is so nutty on the leash there's no way she wouldn't end wrapped around telephone poles and stroller wheels and making my crazy—I was seriously impressed at her ability to maneuver all those objects and living beings all at once, all while moving at an impressive pace.  I gotta hand it to her: she was knocking a whole lot of things off her to-do list all at once.

Got me thinking though, about some of the stranger multitasking I've seen within a health/fitness context. There are the people who talk on the phone while running, those who yammer on a cell while biking. I've seen people with underwater headphones and radios, doing laps while the music plays. There's this one woman I see at the gym who props her iPad on the treadmill and manages to type emails while jogging.

Then again, multitasking isn't the best thing for you. Recent research has found that when you try to attend to too many things all at once, your performance at all of the things suffers. The brain simply cannot do to many things at once; even if it seems like you're doing both what is really happening is that the brain is rapidly toggling between the tasks. And the same research found that even after you've finished your three-at-once thing, your memory can suffer. (I'm not even going to mention the fact that driving while talking on the phone or texting is just plain reckless.)

I guess that in the end, while we often feel like we're better off doing more at once, in some things, less is more. But it probably just comes down to personal choice, of course…the woman with the dog, the challenging footwear and the baby-in-the-stroller may have felt wonderfully accomplished, regardless of what the science says!! So I wonder: When and how do you multitask? Do you multitask while working out?