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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hernacki

How to Multiply…by Just Adding

Woman wearing earphones, jogging by a river with a bridge in the background in early morning light.

Exercise makes you feel better, look better, sleep better, and control your weight. You know all that. But what you might not know is that you can greatly increase the benefits of exercise without increasing the time or physical effort you spend doing it.

How is that possible?

Research conducted over the past 15 years has revealed that by adding a cognitive, or mental, task to an exercise, you can get measurably more benefits than you would from doing the tasks separately. The difference is so dramatic, it’s safe to say you multiply by adding.

This technique, which I found out about recently, is called “dual tasking.” It consists of taking a physical task, like walking, and adding a mental task, like counting by threes. The research showed that stroke patients who did this improved their balance and walking speed over those who did only one task. I can tell you from my own experience that it brings your exercise routine to a whole new level.

I learned that standard fitness regimens usually involve one element, not both. Yet much of what we do involves dual tasking, like walking and talking on the phone or cooking and listening to the radio. No wonder dual tasking works so well; it’s natural!

Scientists tell us that adding a second task helps your brain to: 

  1) rewire itself in response to learning (neuroplasticity), and

  2) form new neurons (neurogenesis).

If you go online and type in “dual tasking,” you’ll find a huge body of information and suggestions on how to put it to use. You can even choose your exercises based on whether you want to improve your memory, decision-making skiils, emotional control, or other brain functions.

Depending on your age, it might take up to 12 weeks to get measurable results, so don’t get discouraged early. But keep it up and the results will come. We now have the science to prove it.


Phun Phacts  Exercise physiologists classify skills as “open” or “closed.” An open environment is one that is constantly changing and is being controlled partly by someone else, like a ping pong game. The brain has to constantly adapt.   A closed environment is stable and predictable, like running on a treadmill. By combining open and closed, like choosing the “random” option on your treadmill, you make your exercise time worth a lot more with almost no more effort.


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