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Study: Strenuous physical exercise may lead to cognitive –not just physical– fatigue


Too Much Exer­cise Can Tire Our Brains Out, Too (Dis­cov­er Mag­a­zine D‑brief):

For years, the Nation­al Insti­tute of Sports, Exer­cise and Per­for­mance (INSEP) in France had been study­ing an unusu­al phe­nom­e­non. If an athlete’s work­out reg­i­ments were ramped up, it didn’t always lead to a bet­ter per­for­mance — even if that ath­lete felt like they were work­ing hard­er than before.

The orga­ni­za­tion called this phe­nom­e­non over­reach­ing, and knew what the phys­i­cal symp­toms were. But the orga­ni­za­tion want­ed to know if any symp­toms of fatigue were appear­ing in the brain, too. New research says yes. Too-intense work­outs can make ath­letes more impul­sive, accord­ing to a study pub­lished today in Cur­rent Biol­o­gy … This insight is rel­e­vant even for peo­ple who don’t work out for a liv­ing, he says. Not only does the research indi­cate it’s best to avoid dif­fi­cult deci­sions after par­tic­u­lar­ly stren­u­ous work­outs, but “if you’re work­ing out hard and start feel­ing exhaust­ed, annoyed, or are more impul­sive, you could be on the path to over­train­ing,” he says.

The Study:

Neu­ro-com­pu­ta­tion­al Impact of Phys­i­cal Train­ing Over­load on Eco­nom­ic Deci­sion-Mak­ing (Cur­rent Biol­o­gy).

  • Sum­ma­ry: Over­train­ing syn­drome is a form of burnout, defined in endurance ath­letes by unex­plained per­for­mance drop asso­ci­at­ed with intense fatigue sen­sa­tion. Our work­ing hypoth­e­sis is that the form of fatigue result­ing from phys­i­cal train­ing over­load might share some neur­al under­pin­nings with the form of fatigue observed after pro­longed intel­lec­tu­al work, which was pre­vi­ous­ly shown to affect the cog­ni­tive con­trol brain sys­tem. Indeed, cog­ni­tive con­trol may be required to pre­vent any impul­sive behav­ior, includ­ing stop­ping phys­i­cal effort when it hurts, despite the long-term goal of improv­ing per­for­mance through intense train­ing. To test this hypoth­e­sis, we induced a mild form of over­train­ing in a group of endurance ath­letes, which we com­pared to a group of nor­mal­ly trained ath­letes on behav­ioral tasks per­formed dur­ing fMRI scan­ning. At the behav­ioral lev­el, train­ing over­load enhanced impul­siv­i­ty in eco­nom­ic choice, which was cap­tured by a bias favor­ing imme­di­ate over delayed rewards in our com­pu­ta­tion­al mod­el. At the neur­al lev­el, train­ing over­load result­ed in dimin­ished acti­va­tion of the lat­er­al pre­frontal cor­tex, a key region of the cog­ni­tive con­trol sys­tem, dur­ing eco­nom­ic choice. Our results there­fore pro­vide causal evi­dence for a func­tion­al link between endur­ing phys­i­cal exer­cise and exert­ing cog­ni­tive con­trol. Besides, the con­cept of cog­ni­tive con­trol fatigue bridges the func­tion­al con­se­quences of exces­sive phys­i­cal train­ing and intel­lec­tu­al work into a sin­gle neu­ro-com­pu­ta­tion­al mech­a­nism, which might con­tribute to oth­er clin­i­cal forms of burnout syn­dromes.

The Study in Context:

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Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Health & Wellness, Peak Performance

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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