Fitter body, better focus

Athletes have a better attention span and reaction time than non-athletes

Woman exercisingNew research indicates that sportspersons are better at cognitive tasks than individuals not engaging in sports. Also, their reflexes are also quicker. A team from the Granada University compared the cognitive abilities of fit individuals with not-so-fit individuals in tasks such as long-term attention [how long can you concentrate], time-oriented attention [how well can you anticipate when something will happen] and time perception[how well can you estimate how much time has passed].

The study

The two groups were studied were: The fit group consisting of 11 cyclists from the Andalusian Cycling Federation along with 3 students from the Faculty of Physical Activity and Sports Activities of the University of Granada and the not-so-fit group of 14 students from the University of Granada. The fitness levels being high and low were confirmed using guidelines set by American College of Sports Medicine.

The results

The group with good physical condition performed much better than the group with a more sedentary lifestyle with regards to sustained attention. Their reaction time to sudden events was also quicker. In the other cognitive tasks, not much difference was observed.

How the three cognitive tasks affected of the autonomic nervous system [ANS]was interesting to note. Effect on the ANS is measured through changes in heart rate variability [HRV]. This is variation in time interval between two heart beats.Sustained attention had the least effect on HRV. Also, only in the group with a sedentary lifestyle, HRV dropped as the participants spent more time on the tasks. A drop in HRV could be considered a predictor of heart disease

“The physiological and behavioural results obtained through our study suggest that the main benefit resulting from the good physical condition of the cyclists appeared to be associated with the processes implicated by sustained attention,” explains Antonio Luque Casado of the Department of Experimental Psychology of the University of Granada, the principal author of the study.

However, he believes that these are just preliminary findings and further studies would be required to provide further evidence.


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