Sluggish movement at altitude is partly a brain effect

At high altitude, even the fittest mountaineer’s ability to move freely can vanish in the thin air. But it’s not the fault of your muscles. In fact, this drop-off in athletic performance in low-oxygen conditions may be mostly in the mind: the brain kicks in to prevent potentially damaging overexertion.

The cause of muscle fatigue has been the subject of much debate. Some researchers emphasise the importance of physical changes such as lactic acid build-up, while others back a “central governor” theory whereby fatigue is a sensation generated by the brain.

Emma Ross of the University of Brighton, UK, and colleagues asked 11 men to carry out knee extensor muscle exercises while breathing normal air – which has 21 per cent oxygen – as well as mixes with 16 per cent, 13 per cent and 10 per cent oxygen to represent mild, moderate and severe hypoxia. As the oxygen levels fell, so did the forces the participants could generate voluntarily.

FULL STORY:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20693-sluggish-movement-at-altitude-is-partly-a-brain-effect.html

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