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Published 20 July 2012 04:31, Updated 24 July 2012 06:43
Take it from these guys, sitting isn’t good for your smarts.
First we found out our desks are killing us. Now scientists think they’re making us stupider while they’re at it.
According to researcher Sabine Schaefer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, our working memory functions better when we’re walking than when we’re sitting, bringing new meaning to thinking on your feet.
Working memory is the part of the brain that actively holds information for verbal and non-verbal tasks, including reasoning and comprehension, and allows us to complete activities in the face of distractions and interfering processes.
To reach the conclusion, Schaefer had 32 adults and 32 nine year olds complete a working memory task walking on a treadmill at their chosen speed, walking on a treadmill at a speed set by researchers and sitting down.
According to the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest: “The headline finding was that working memory performance of both age groups improved while walking at their chosen speed compared to with when sitting or walking at a fixed speed set by the researchers.
“This was especially the case for more difficult versions of the working memory task, and was more pronounced among children than adults.”
In other words, sometimes doing two things at once can make us smarter. But there are conditions. In this case, the research team found that walking at a pace set by someone else did not improve working memory function as much as walking at our own pace.
The reasons: the speed set by the researchers may have been too low to stimulate mental activity in the right way, or it may require too much concentration to think and walk at someone else’s pace.
As to why walking at our own pace makes us smarter? “The researchers aren’t sure of the mechanism, but they think the attentional pool tapped by a senori-motor task like walking is likely separate from the attentional pool tapped by working memory,” the BPS’s Research Digest writes.
“Moreover, physical activity increases arousal and activation, ‘which then can be invested into the cognitive task’.”