When you think of working out, you may imagine spending long hours at the gym, paying through the nose for personal trainers or fancy workout equipment, or forcing yourself to suffer through high-impact exercises that seem to deliver more pain than results. However, a new study reveals that you don’t have to torture yourself to live a longer and healthier life—in fact, the key to better health is so simple that it’s practically mindless.
A September 2021 study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology asked study subjects to walk on a treadmill while wearing a pair of headphones through which a series of beeping noises was emitted. The study subjects were asked to press a button in one hand if the latest beep was higher in tone than the one they’d just heard, or press a button in the other hand if the beep was lower than the one they’d heard prior. In a subsequent test, study subjects were asked to step in time with a metronome, either at a faster or slower pace than their natural gait. The study’s researchers then made the walking conditions more difficult by activating leg braces the study subjects were wearing. In a final experiment, the study’s authors combined the beeping, metronome, and leg brace tests to further distract study subjects and see if juggling these obstacles required them to expend more energy during the workout.
What researchers found instead was that study subjects automatically adjusted the efficiency of their workouts to account for the changes, suggesting that effective walking workouts can be accomplished even when the person walking is distracted by either physical or mental obstacles.
"When people adapt to energy optimal ways of walking, they do so without consciously having to think about it," explained Megan McAllister, MSc , a Ph.D. candidate at Queen’s University and the study’s lead author, in a statement .