Science Gazette

Researchers reveal how the human brain multitasks when walking

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The old adage about not being able to walk while chewing gum has been turned on its head by new study. Scientists have shown that a healthy brain can multitask while walking without losing the quality of either activity.

“This research tells us that the brain is adaptable and can take on extra responsibilities,” said David Richardson, an MD/PhD student in the Pathology & Cell Biology of Disease Program in his fifth year and the study’s first author. “Our results revealed that when individuals conducted a cognitive activity at the same time as walking, their walking patterns improved, indicating that they were really more stable when walking and executing the task than when they were exclusively focused on walking.”

Researchers employed a Mobile Brain/Body Imaging system, or MoBI, at the Del Monte Institute’s Frederick J. and Marion A. Schindler Cognitive Neurophysiology Lab to conduct these tests. Virtual reality, brain monitoring, and motion capture technologies are all part of the platform. 16 high-speed cameras capture the location markers with millimeter accuracy while simultaneously analyzing the participants’ brain activity when they walk on a treadmill or manage things on a table.

The MoBI was used to capture participants’ brain activity while they walked on a treadmill and switched activities. Their brain activity was also monitored when they were seated and doing the identical activities. The researchers measured brain changes between the cued tasks and found that the neurophysiological difference between walking and sitting was greater during the more difficult tasks, highlighting the flexibility of a healthy brain and how it prepares for and executes tasks based on difficulty level.

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“The MoBI helps us to better understand how the brain works in daily life,” stated lead author Edward Freedman, Ph.D. “Examining these data to learn how a young, healthy brain switches activities will give us a better understanding of what goes wrong in a brain with a neurodegenerative illness like Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Knowing how a healthy young brain can effectively ‘walk and speak’ is a good start, but we also need to know how these discoveries change in the brains of healthy older individuals and those with neurodegenerative disorders,” Richardson said. “The next step is to broaden the scope of this study to encompass a broader range of brains.”

The University of Rochester’s John Foxe, Ph.D., Kevin Mazurek, Ph.D., and Nicholas Abraham are among the other writers. The Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience Pilot Program and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development financed this study.

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