The Impact of Cognitive Work Demands on Subsequent Physical Activity Behavior

Sven van As*, Harm Veling, Debby G.J. Beckers, Fiona Earle, Stefi McMaster, Michiel A.J. Kompier, Sabine A.E. Geurts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


After cognitively demanding work, individuals tend to be less physically active. However, the psychological mechanisms underlying this effect have not been thoroughly tested. The aim of this article was to experimentally investigate the impact of cognitive work demands on subsequent physical activity behavior. Across two preregistered experiments, participants were exposed to high or low levels of cognitive work demands, operationalized as workload in Experiment 1 and as working-memory load in Experiment 2. In a subsequent choice task, participants made binary consequential choices between leisure nonphysical activities (e.g., drawing) and effortful physical activities (e.g., cycling). Choice alternatives were matched on attractiveness rankings. Additionally, physical endurance performance was measured using a standardized cycling protocol in Experiment 1. In contrast to the hypotheses, after performing work with high cognitive demands, participants were not more likely to choose nonphysical over physical activities nor did they perform significantly worse on the physical endurance task. Exploratory analyses suggest that preexisting preferences for either physical or nonphysical activities explained physical activity behavior above and beyond exposure to cognitively demanding work. These experiments question the impact of cognitively demanding work on subsequent cognitive fatigue and physical activity behavior. Implications for theory, practice, and future directions are discussed
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive demands
  • Decision-making
  • Fatigue
  • Motivation
  • Physical activity


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