As Fall approaches (which means winter is right behind it), more and more people will be taking their workouts indoors, where they’ll climb aboard stationary bikes, treadmills, ellipticals and stair-climbers.
Many of them will pass the time reading a book or magazine while pounding away. Does this distraction detract from their workout? Or could it actually help?
A group of researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington sought to determine the physiological effects of reading while exercising by testing eight subjects (four men and four women), recording how their body reacts during exercise both with and without reading materials.
Conventional wisdom (that is to say, my “wisdom”) might say reading is a distraction that detracts from the effectiveness of your workout because it prevents you from concentrating on maximizing your time on the machine. I often observe people reading while doing their cardio (I occasionally even do it myself, though I prefer not to), and many of them are simply on the machine, not working on the machine. Their lazy pace says they’re more engrossed in their reading material than focused on getting their sweat on.
To gain their findings, the researchers tested their subjects in various areas (heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen consumption) while resting, prior to their workouts. The subjects then chose their reading materials from among three subjects (bacteria and food borne illness, time management strategies, and alcohol consumption and college students); and after a five-minute warmup, underwent three seven-minute phases of cardio exercise, during one of which they would read. Afterwards, the subjects had a five-minute recovery period, and they were tested on the subjects they read to ensure their brain was properly engaged with the material while exercising.
The results were actually surprising. The subjects showed no significant change in heart rate or blood pressure during the intervals when they were reading. However, they demonstrated increased oxygen consumption while reading. The researchers attributed the latter to the increased brain activity needed to multi-task, which required more oxygen.)
Thus it seems you can get a good workout while also bacteria or rowdy college behavior. (Now, if I had been conducted the research, I would have tested whether reading, say, the celebrity rags or sports mags–which is what most people are reading–makes a difference!)
Just remember, these subjects were essentially coached into keeping their workout pace steady while reading. If there’s no one there watching while you’re digesting your favorite novel, you could be susceptible to slacking a bit as the story gets juicy. So enjoy your reading, but stay focused!