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Can Pod Save Your Run?

Is listening to podcasts sabotaging your run?    

Step away from the earbuds. That’s the advice being gleaned from a recent study out of Cambridge University, which determined that exercising while mentally engaged in another activity -- like listening to a podcast -- can be detrimental to performance. In other words, tuning in to another episode of Death, Sex and Money may be the death of your next run. Or at least your PR attempt.

The problem, researchers say, is that a person can’t give 100% to both brain and brawn at once -- something’s gotta give, and it’s likely to be your running.

As human beings have evolved from #cavelife to #cubiclelife, cognitive function has become more valuable than muscularity, and so -- when forced to decide between the two -- the human body will inevitably divert more glucose toward fueling that gray matter in your head. Translation: your brain is selfish, and will eat up too much energy if you let it.

Or, as lead researcher Danny Longman, PhD, put it: “Focusing on the activity itself, rather than letting the mind wander, can enhance performance in high-level and high-intensity sporting disciplines.”

In Longman’s study, 62 elite rowers completed a three-minute memory test in which they were shown and then asked to recall 75 words. They were also asked to row for three minutes at maximum power. Finally, they were invited to do both at the same time. During this simultaneous test, each result took a hit, but physical performance dropped by an average of 30 percent more.

 The conclusion -- that staying present is important for athletic success -- is backed by numerous mindfulness studies. In The New York Times a couple years ago, one expert advised athletes to concentrate on their feet while working out, because when you’re doing that, “you aren’t thinking about anything else.”

Still, other studies suggest running is the ideal time for a podcast, since pounding the pavement frees up space in the brain for processing new ideas. Turns out, some of us are simply better equipped for this than others. Runners can be broken into two style groups:  those who prefer to engage with a task while they’re at it, and those who prefer to disassociate -- aka, distract themselves from the weekend’s long run with season two of Serial.

In the end, dipping into both strategies may prove useful.

“Outside stimuli can keep you motivated and prevent you from focusing on discomfort or fatigue, which can slow you down,” writes Kristen Elde for Runner’s World. “But checking in now and then with yourself to assess how you're feeling can help you stay on track.”

As for how best to achieve this balance? We’re pretty sure there’s a podcast on that...

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