Cognitive Performance and Heart Rate Variability: The Influence of Fitness Level

Luque-Casado, Antonio; Zabala, Mikel; Morales, Esther; Mateo-March, Manuel; Sanabria, Daniel
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
In the present study, we investigated the relation between cognitive performance and heart rate variability as a function of fitness level. We measured the effect of three cognitive tasks (the psychomotor vigilance task, a temporal orienting task, and a duration discrimination task) on the heart rate variability of two groups of participants: a high-fit group and a low-fit group. Two major novel findings emerged from this study. First, the lowest values of heart rate variability were found during performance of the duration discrimination task, compared to the other two tasks. Second, the results showed a decrement in heart rate variability as a function of the time on task, although only in the low-fit group. Moreover, the high-fit group showed overall faster reaction times than the low-fit group in the psychomotor vigilance task, while there were not significant differences in performance between the two groups of participants in the other two cognitive tasks. In sum, our results highlighted the influence of cognitive processing on heart rate variability. Importantly, both behavioral and physiological results suggested that the main benefit obtained as a result of fitness level appeared to be associated with processes involving sustained attention.


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