Harder Than You Think: Work, Focus, and Fitness
Maintaining a high degree of concentration over a prolonged period of time is crucial to succeeding under the demands of a stressful work environment. Under highly stressful conditions it is not uncommon for even the most vigilant individuals to experience temporary bouts of acute mental fatigue. Research shows mental fatigue impairs our ability to cognitively process information. Also, our reaction times are slower, and we are more likely to overlook important details, all of which compromise our decision making capability. When it is just acute mental fatigue, these decrements disappear after a good period of rest. However, as we experience more prolonged bouts of acute mental fatigue, it is likely to become a chronic condition. Chronic fatigue is not responsive to periods of rest or other remedies are known to restore mental alertness and focus.
Improving aerobic fitness has been shown to prevent both acute and chronic mental fatigue. When we build up our aerobic capacity, the cells of our body store more energy works more efficiently and become more resilient to stress. Our nerve cells are no exception to these training benefits. Consequently aerobically fit individuals develop greater mental endurance, as well as physical endurance; i.e., research shows they maintain a higher degree of focus for longer periods of time and have faster reaction times when compared to lower-fit individuals.
For any professional, a regular exercise regimen is vital to possess the mental fitness and resiliency needed to effectively respond to the challenges of the work environment. If you are a beginner or it’s been a while, it’s always a good idea to see your doctor before you start any type of exercise training program.
- Luque-Casado, A., Perakakis, P., Hillman, C.H., Kao, S.C., Llorens, F., Guerra, P., and Sanabria, D., 2016. Differences in Sustained
Attention Capacity as a Function of Aerobic Fitness. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 48(5), pp.887-895.
- Mizuno, K., Tanaka, M., Yamaguti, K., Kajimoto, O., Kuratsune, H., and Watanabe, Y., 2011. Mental fatigue caused by prolonged cognitive
load associated with sympathetic hyperactivity. Behavioral and brain functions, 7(1), p.1.
- Warm, J.S., Parasuraman, R., and Matthews, G., 2008. Vigilance requires hard mental work and is stressful. Human Factors: The Journal
of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 50(3), pp.433-441.
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Dr. Stephen Almada