Background: During daily activities, the active control of balance often is a task per se (for example, when standing in a moving bus). Other constraints like fatigue can add to the complexity of this balance task. In the present experiment, we examined how moderate fatigue induced by fast walking on a treadmill challenged dynamic balance control. We also examined if the attentional demands for performing the balance task varied with fatigue.
Methods: Subjects (n = 10) performed simultaneously a dynamic balance control task and a probe reaction time task (RT) (serving as an indicator of attentional demands) before and after three periods of moderate fatigue (fast walking on a treadmill). For the balance control task, the real-time displacement of the centre of pressure (CP) was provided on a monitor placed in front of the subject, at eye level. Subjects were asked to keep their CP within a target (moving box) moving upward and downward on the monitor. The tracking performance was measured (time spent outside the moving box) and the CP behavior analyzed (mean CP speed and mean frequency of the CP velocity).
Results: Moderate fatigue led to an immediate decrement of the performance on the balance control task; increase of the percentage of time spent outside the box and increase of the mean CP speed. Across the three fatigue periods, subjects improved their tracking performance and reduced their mean CP speed. This was achieved by increasing their frequency of actions; mean frequency of the CP velocity were higher for the fatigue periods than for the no fatigue periods. Fatigue also induced an increase in the attentional demands suggesting that more cognitive resources had to be allocated to the balance task with than without fatigue.
Conclusion: Fatigue induced by fast walking had an initial negative impact on the control of balance. Nonetheless, subjects were able to compensate the effect of the moderate fatigue by increasing the frequency of actions. This adaptation, however, required that a greater proportion of the cognitive resources be allocated to the active control of the balance task.