Moderate physical activity alters the estimation of time, but not space
Moderate physical activity can influence cognitive functions and visual cortical activity. However, little is known about the effects of exercise on fundamental perceptual domains, such as spatial and temporal representation. Here we tackled this issue by testing the impact of physical activity on a temporal estimation task in a group of adult volunteers in three different conditions: (1) in a resting condition (baseline), (2) during moderate physical activity (cycling in place – PA), and (3) approximately 15 to 20 min following the physical activity phase, in which participants were seated and returned to a regular heart rate (POST). We show that physical activity specifically impacts time perception, inducing a consistent overestimation for durations in the range of milliseconds. Notably, the effect persisted in the POST session, ruling out the main contribution of either heart rate or cycling rhythmicity. In a control experiment, we found that spatial perception (distance estimation) was unaffected by physical activity, ruling out a major contribution of arousal and fatigue to the observed temporal distortion. We speculate that physical exercise might alter temporal estimation either by up-regulating the dopaminergic system or modulating GABAergic inhibition.