Pearson, C. M., Muir-Broaddus, J. E., & Smith, J. C. (1997). The effect of exercise intensity on measures of cognitive performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 29(5), Supplement abstract 671.

The effect of exercise intensity on the performance of cognitive tasks during prolonged exercise was studied.

Ss (N = 8) were tested for VO2max and the work rate at which ventilatory threshold was elicited. They then performed a reading span task to measure working memory capacity and a choice reaction time task under three randomly assigned conditions:

  1. Seated at rest on a bicycle ergometer.
  2. 20 min of exercise at 7% less than ventilatory threshold speed.
  3. 20 min of exercise at 7% more than ventilatory threshold speed.

Both exercise conditions reduced the working memory capacity more than the resting control condition.

Implication. Exercise causes decrements in working memory capacity that underlies more complex cognitive processes. Expectations for mental performance in a sporting event should be moderated when more than comfortable fatigue is to be experienced by an athlete.

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