Long-duration exercise has been linked with the psychological model of flow. It is expected that the flow experience is characterized by specific changes in cortical activity, especially a transient hypofrontality, which has recently been connected with an increase in cognitive performance post-exercise. Nevertheless, data on neuro-affective and neuro-cognitive effects during prolonged exercise are rare. The cognitive performance, mental state, flow experience, and brain cortical activity of 11 ultramarathon runners (6 female, 5 male) were assessed before, several times during, and after a 6-h run. A decrease in cortical activity (beta activity) was measured in the frontal cortex, whereas no changes were measured for global beta, frontal or global alpha activity. Perceived physical relaxation and flow state increased significantly after 1 h of running but decreased during the following 5 h. Perceived physical state and motivational state remained stable during the first hour of running but then decreased significantly. Cognitive performance as well as the underlying neurophysiological events (recorded as event-related potentials) remained stable across the 6-h run. Despite the fact that women reported significant higher levels of flow, no further gender effects were noticeable. Supporting the theory of a transient hypofrontality, a clear decrease in frontal cortex activity was noticeable. Interestingly, this had no effect on cognitive performance. The fact that self-reported flow experience only increased during the first hour of running before decreasing, leads us to assume that changes in cortical activity, and the experience of flow may not be linked as previously supposed.
Prolonged exercise Brain activity Cognitive performance Flow Affective state
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