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Mental fatigue impairs athletic performance 

In a new study from the University of Birmingham, researchers have investigated whether mental fatigue can impair physical performance. The experts confirmed that after performing a mentally challenging task, an individual will find physical exercise to be more difficult.

For the study, a team of researchers in Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences assigned cognitive tasks to a group of 16 men and women. The goal was to examine how the effects of mental fatigue may change the perception of physical exertion, or how hard it feels to perform a task.

The participants completed a 90-minute mental exercise before performing a series of weight lifting repetitions. A control group was assigned to watch neutral videos before exercising. 

A second experiment involved a series of resistance training exercises, followed by cognitive tasks and then a 20-minute cycling trial.

In both experiments, the experts found that mentally fatigued participants had an increased sense of exertion during physical exercise. While cycling, the individuals who had also performed mental exercises had less power and covered less distance

According to the results, it would be beneficial for athletes to take the effects of mental fatigue into account during training.

In particular, the study authors recommend that coaches reduce an athlete’s exposure to mentally challenging tasks, such as smartphone use, before and during training and competitions. In the long term, coaches should consider “brain endurance training” to increase resilience to mental fatigue, said the researchers.

“We know that the brain plays a part in physical performance, but the specific effects of mental fatigue have not been well understood,” said study lead author Dr. Chris Ring.

“We know that athletes will often be browsing on their smartphones in rests between competing and training. All of that requires mental effort and our results strongly suggest that athletes and coaches need to better understand the effects of these activities on overall performance.”

The study is published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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