Engaging in a mind-challenging activity—say, playing along with Jeopardy! or solving a brain game—while doing cardio actually makes you work harder and go faster without even trying.
In a University of Florida study, subjects riding stationary bikes were given increasingly harder cognitive tasks, like visual processing and memory tests (i.e., “Say ‘go’ when you see a blue star”; “Memorize six letters”). But instead of decelerating, as was expected, they went about 25% faster while using their heads.
“When people were doing the easy tasks, they paid no attention at all to their cycling,” says study head Lori Altmann, Ph.D. “They were totally focused on the cognitive tasks and had no idea they were speeding up.”
And while you’re at it, next time you’re on an exercise bike, have some fun and try pedaling backward: Turns out cycling in reverse elicits a higher heart rate and greater quadriceps activation, which could make forward pedaling mentally and physically easier later, an American Council on Exercise–backed study found.
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