Study Finds that Mental Fatigue Can Directly Affect One’s Physical Performance

Study Finds that Mental Fatigue Can Directly Affect One’s Physical Performance

A study demonstrates that it may be more difficult for people to continue with physical activity after engaging in cognitively taxing activities.

Researchers from University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, examined the impact of cognitive activities on a group of 16 men and women to see what occurred to their perception of physical effort.

Their results revealed that mentally exhausted individuals felt more tired while doing physical activity.

The results, which were published in the Sports Physiology and Performance Journal, indicate that athletes may perform better if the consequences of mental exhaustion are taken into consideration during training.

The researchers advise coaches to limit athletes’ exposure to mentally taxing activities like smartphone use before, during, and after training sessions and tournaments.

In the long run, people ought to also start thinking about engaging in “brain endurance training” to bolster resistance to mental exhaustion.

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

Participants in the tests underwent a 90-minute mental challenge that entailed recognizing letter sequences displayed on a screen.

They next performed a series of repetitions using weights.

Before engaging in the physical challenge, the control group was shown some neutral clips.

In a second experiment, participants underwent a series of weight training exercises, followed by 20 minutes of cycling.

Before and after the workouts, they engaged in cognitive activities while a control group watched a neutral video as well.

Finally, participants conducted an online exam to determine their level of exhaustion after the cognitive exercises.

The individuals who were mentally exhausted in each trial saw an increase in perceived effort, or how difficult it felt to complete the task.

In the second trial, it was also observed that the psychologically exhausted cyclists pedaled less quickly and covered less distance.

The study team has already started to explore the relationships between mental exhaustion and performance among groups of professional athletes in ‘real world’ workout settings so more should soon be known about this phenomenon.


Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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