Walking gives the brain a “boost” in function for some

Summary: For some, cognitive performance on tasks improves as they walk through a change in the use of neural resources.

Source: University of Rochester

It has long been thought that when walking is combined with a task, they both suffer. Researchers at the University of Rochester’s Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience have found that this is not always the case.

Some young, healthy people improve performance in cognitive tasks while walking by changing the use of neural resources.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be working on a big assignment as you walk away from that cake from the night before.

“There was no predictor of who would fall into which category before testing them, we initially thought everyone would respond in a similar way,” said Eleni Patelaki, PhD in biomedical engineering. student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in the Frederick J. and Marion A. Schindler Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory and first author of the study now available in Cerebral cortex.

“It was surprising that for some of the subjects it was easier for them to do the dual task, to do more than one task, than for the single task, to do each task separately. This was interesting and unexpected because most field studies show that the more tasks we have to do at the same time, the lower our performance will be. “

Improving means changes in the brain

Using the Mobile Brain / Body Imaging system, or MoBI, the researchers monitored the brain activity, kinematics and behavior of 26 healthy boys between the ages of 18 and 30 as they looked at a series of images while sitting in a chair. or walking on a treadmill. Participants were asked to click a button each time the image changed. If the same picture appeared one after another, the participants were asked not to click.

The performance each participant in this task achieved while seated was considered their personal behavioral “baseline”. When walking was added to perform the same task, the researchers found that different behaviors appeared, with some people performing worse than their baseline while sitting, as predicted based on previous studies, but also with others improving. than their seated baseline.

Data from the electroencephalogram, or EEG, showed that the 14 participants who improved in activity while walking had a change in frontal brain function that was absent in the 12 participants who did not improve. This change in brain activity shown by those who improved in the task suggests greater flexibility or efficiency in the brain.

“To the naked eye, there were no differences between our participants. It was only when we started analyzing their behavior and brain activity that we discovered the startling difference in the group’s neural signature and what makes them handle complex dual-task processes differently, ”Patelaki said.

Some young, healthy people improve performance in cognitive tasks while walking by changing the use of neural resources. The image is in the public domain

“These findings have the potential to be expanded and translated into populations where we know the flexibility of neural resources is compromised.”

Edward Freedman, Ph.D., associate professor of Neuroscience at the Del Monte Institute led this research that continues to broaden how the MoBI is helping neuroscientists discover the mechanisms at work when the brain takes on multiple tasks. His previous work highlighted the flexibility of a healthy brain, showing that the harder the task, the greater the neurophysiological difference between walking and sitting.

“These new findings highlight that the MoBI can show us how the brain responds to walking and how the brain responds to the task,” Freedman said.

“This gives us a place to start looking into the brains of older adults, especially healthy ones.”

Extending this research to the elderly could guide scientists to identify a possible marker for the “super-elderly” or people who have minimal decline in cognitive function. This marker would be useful to help better understand what could go wrong with neurodegenerative diseases.

See also

About this cognitive research news

Author: Press office
Source: University of Rochester
Contact: Press Office – University of Rochester
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original research: Free access.
“Young adults who improve performance during dual-task walking show a more flexible reallocation of cognitive resources: a mobile brain-body imaging study (MoBI)” by Eleni Patelaki et al. Cerebral cortex


Young adults who improve performance during dual-task walking show a more flexible reallocation of cognitive resources: a mobile brain-body imaging study (MoBI)


In young adults, pairing a cognitive task with walking can have different effects on gait and cognitive task performance. In some cases, the performance clearly decreases, while in others the compensatory mechanisms maintain the performance. This study investigates the preliminary discovery of the behavioral improvement in the performance of the Go / NoGo response inhibition task during walking versus sitting, which was observed in the piloting phase.

Materials and methods

Mobile brain / body imaging (MoBI) was used to record electroencephalography (EEG) activity, three-dimensional (3D) gait kinematics, and behavioral responses in the cognitive task, while sitting or walking on a treadmill .


In a cohort of 26 young adults, 14 participants improved in measures of performance of cognitive tasks while walking versus sitting. These participants showed walking-related reductions in EEG amplitude on the frontal regions of the scalp during key phases of inhibitory control (impingement monitoring, control implementation, and pre-motor phases), accompanied by reduced step-to-step variability. faster pace and responses to stimuli than those that did not improve. In contrast, 12 participants who did not improve showed no differences in EEG amplitude in physical condition.


Changes in neural activity associated with improved performance during dual tasking hold promise as indicators of cognitive flexibility that can potentially help assess cognitive decline in aging and neurodegeneration.