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Pacing and Awareness: Brain Regulation of Physical Activity

Abstract

The aim of this current opinion article is to provide a contemporary perspective on the role of brain regulatory control of paced performances in response to exercise challenges. There has been considerable recent conjecture as to the role of the brain during exercise, and it is now broadly accepted that fatigue does not occur without brain involvement and that all voluntary activity is likely to be paced at some level by the brain according to individualised priorities and knowledge of personal capabilities. This article examines the role of pacing in managing and distributing effort to successfully accomplish physical tasks, while extending existing theories on the role of the brain as a central controller of performance. The opinion proposed in this article is that a central regulator operates to control exercise performance but achieves this without the requirement of an intelligent central governor located in the subconscious brain. It seems likely that brain regulation operates at different levels of awareness, such that minor homeostatic challenges are addressed automatically without conscious awareness, while larger metabolic disturbances attract conscious awareness and evoke a behavioural response. This supports the view that the brain regulates exercise performance but that the interpretation of the mechanisms underlying this effect have not yet been fully elucidated.

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Acknowledgments

No funding was provided for the preparation of the paper. Neither author has any conflicts of interest. Both authors contributed fully to the preparation of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to A. M. Edwards.

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Edwards, A.M., Polman, R.C.J. Pacing and Awareness: Brain Regulation of Physical Activity. Sports Med 43, 1057–1064 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0091-4

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Keywords

  • Exercise Performance
  • Exercise Bout
  • Central Controller
  • Motor Unit Recruitment
  • Central Governor