Excessive Athletic Training Linked to Brain Fatigue

Published Online: Monday, October 7th, 2019
A new study reported in the Current Biology journal suggests that mental fatigue can develop from excessive athletic training. The fatigue included reduced activity in a portion of the brain important for making decisions.

The objective of the study was to find a connection between mental and physical effort, as both require cognitive control.

Researchers recruited 37 competitive male endurance athletes to be assigned to either continue their normal training or increase their training sessions by 40% over a three-week period. Their physical performance was monitored during cycling exercises performed on rest days, and a questionnaire was used every two days to assess their experience of fatigue. Behavioral testing and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning experiments were also conducted.

The results revealed that an overload of physical training led the athletes to feel more fatigued, as well as showing more impulsive actions in standard tests used to evaluate how they’d make economic choices. The athletes who showed physical overload also showed diminished activation of the lateral prefrontal cortex, which is a key region of the executive control system, when making decisions.

These findings suggest that athletes and anyone in training should monitor fatigue level in order to prevent bad decisions from being made in the political, judicial, or economic domains. In addition, the researchers noted that while endurance sport is generally good for your health, overdoing it can have adverse effects on your brain.

The researchers plan to explore why exerting control during sports training or intellectual work makes the cognitive control system harder to activate in future studies.

Can excessive athletic training make your brain tired? New study says yes. Science Daily website. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190926141738.htm. Published September 26, 2019. Accessed October 1, 2019.

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