A frequent thing you’ll hear in the gym is ”mind over body” – meaning that when the body is exhausted, the mind can keep it going for longer than you think it can. It’s a remarkable feat, and readers that frequently go to gym can attest that they can keep going with motivation in an all-time high despite exhaustion if they can just get the right mindset to do so.
Scientists have recently found out, though, that this only applies in this case, and that the inverse, “body over mind” would not work. If you tire your brain, your body might just follow as well. With enough mental exertion, you might just lessen endurance and performance in the gym, leading to shorter workouts, even if your body’s still got a lot of energy to eat through.
There’s been a lot of information and research regarding the effects of physical exercise on the brain and cognitive processes, but no one has really observed how too much thinking might affect physical performance.
In a joint experiment conducted by researchers from the UK and France, researchers tired the brains of their volunteer participants by demanding video games and tested their physical capabilities after. Fatigue is a condition that is usually focused more concerning on bodily fatigue, however, it also occurs in the nervous system.
At one session, the participants were in front of a computer screen for as long as 90 minutes, playing the mentally challenging video game that was designed to tire them out. After their time playing the game, the men were then exercised on their legs by means of a specialized one-legged ergometer where they had to keep going until they reached exhaustion.
After a few days, they were allowed to take the exercise test again, this time without the mentally challenging game beforehand. The results weighed in and showed that the participants burned out up to 15% faster when they were also mentally exhausted, many times before even reaching muscle fatigue.
Interestingly, their maximum force output was not any different, only their endurance. They were able to produce the same force in exertion, but failed to produce the same force for a long period of time. Simply put, exercise feels harder when tired, so you quit earlier, although your muscles are still fresh and good to go.
These findings have some serious applications on how we combine workouts and intense thinking sessions in our day. For example, that you would tire out faster if you went to the gym after work, than you would if you went in the morning. Similarly, it might not be a good idea to balance you finances before you go on a marathon. Whatever you can take from this, it is pretty compelling and at the same time, amazing.