Concentrate on the Workout? No, Thanks.

New York Times—March 16, 2010

Is it helpful or hurtful to use outside stimulation to take your mind off your workout? It depends on the athlete and the distraction. Generally, casual athletes are more likely than serious ones to rely heavily on chatting, viewing, texting or reading to complete an exercise routine. They also may undermine their exertion by distracting themselves the wrong way — hunching over a magazine while pedaling the elliptical, for example, or becoming too involved in a cellphone conversation.

Trainers say that just about anything that gets you into the gym and lengthens your workout can be beneficial. And most people do find that listening to music with a good beat is a motivator. But when it comes to other ways to occupy the mind — like watching a movie, listening to a podcast or talking to a friend — there are dos and don’ts.

“Listening to music you like while exercising has been shown to help release the endorphins that relieve stress and depression, “ said Dr. Vijay B. Vad, a sports medicine physiatrist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “Other distractions haven’t been studied as much, but creating that pleasurable feeling in other ways is likely to do the same thing.”

Doctors and trainers say that the most common distractions, like listening to music or talking to a companion, can be valuable at just about any level, from beginners trying to persuade themselves to go to the gym, to committed athletes preparing for a race.

But in the gym, visual distractions can affect posture, so trainers recommend placing screens or reading material directly at eye level. Looking down while working out is not good.

Read the full story at nytimes.com.

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