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Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009 Feb;105(3):343-9. doi: 10.1007/s00421-008-0908-2. Epub 2008 Nov 6.

The stress of chess players as a model to study the effects of psychological stimuli on physiological responses: an example of substrate oxidation and heart rate variability in man.

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UFR Sciences du Sport de l'Université de Poitiers et Laboratoire des Adaptations, Physiologiques aux Activités Physiques, Poitiers, France.


We have studied the physiological consequences of the tension caused by playing chess in 20 male chess players, by following heart rate, heart rate variability, and respiratory variables. We observed significant increase in the heart rate (75-86 beats/min), in the ratio low frequency (LF)/high frequency (HF) of heart rate variability (1.3-3.0) and also a decrease in mean heart rate variability with no changes in HF throughout the game. These results suggest a stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system with no changes in the parasympathetic system. The respiratory exchange ratio was rather elevated (over 0.89) at the start and significantly decreased during the game (0.75 at the end), indicating that energy expenditure progressively switched from carbohydrate to lipid oxidation. The changes in substrate oxidation and the sympathetic system seem to be due to high cognitive demands and bring new insight into adaptations to mental strain.

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