Comparison of rest-break interventions during a mentally demanding task

Stress Health. 2018 Dec;34(5):629-638. doi: 10.1002/smi.2830. Epub 2018 Aug 16.


Research is scarce on ways to enhance the effect of rest breaks during mentally demanding tasks. The present study investigated the effectiveness of two rest-break interventions on well-being during an academic lecture. Sixty-six students (53 females, mean age 22.5 years) enrolled in two different university classes of 4-hr duration participated in the study. Two measures of well-being (fatigue and vigor) were assessed immediately before, after, and 20 minutes after the break. A control condition without a break as well as an unstructured break was compared with breaks either encompassing physical activity or a relaxation exercise. Compared with the nonbreak condition, the unstructured rest break led to an increase in vigor, the exercise break as well as the relaxation break both to an increase in vigor and a decrease in fatigue at 20-min post break. Compared with the unstructured break, exercise led to an (additional) increase in vigor and relaxation to an (additional) decrease in fatigue at 20-min post break. Thus, the effects of rest breaks during mentally demanding tasks can be enhanced by engaging in physical activity or relaxation exercises, with effects lasting at least as long as 20 min into the continuation of the task.

Keywords: mental fatigue; physical activity; relaxation; rest breaks; well-being.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Fatigue / psychology*
  • Relaxation / psychology*
  • Rest / psychology*
  • Students
  • Universities
  • Young Adult