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Exercise and Cognitive Function: Time Course of the Effects

Authors: Simon B. Cooper, Stephan Bandelow, Maria L. Nute, John G. Morris, Mary E. Nevill


Previous research has indicated a variable effect of exercise on adolescents’ cognitive function. However, comparisons between studies are difficult to make due to differences in: the mode, intensity and duration of exercise employed; the components of cognitive function measured (and the tests used to assess them); and the timing of the cognitive function tests in relation to the exercise. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to assess the time course (10 and 60min post-exercise) of the effects of 15min intermittent exercise on cognitive function in adolescents. 45 adolescents were recruited to participate in the study and completed two main trials (exercise and resting) in a counterbalanced crossover design. Participants completed 15min of intermittent exercise (in cycles of 1 min exercise, 30s rest). A battery of computer based cognitive function tests (Stroop test, Sternberg paradigm and visual search test) were completed 30 min pre- and 10 and 60min post-exercise (to assess attention, working memory and perception respectively).The findings of the present study indicate that on the baseline level of the Stroop test, 10min following exercise response times were slower than at any other time point on either trial (trial by session time interaction, p = 0.0308). However, this slowing of responses also tended to produce enhanced accuracy 10min post-exercise on the baseline level of the Stroop test (trial by session time interaction, p = 0.0780). Similarly, on the complex level of the visual search test there was a slowing of response times 10 min post-exercise (trial by session time interaction, p = 0.0199). However, this was not coupled with an improvement in accuracy (trial by session time interaction, p = 0.2349). The mid-morning bout of exercise did not affect response times or accuracy across the morning on the Sternberg paradigm. In conclusion, the findings of the present study suggest an equivocal effect of exercise on adolescents' cognitive function. The mid-morning bout of exercise appears to cause a speed-accuracy trade off immediately following exercise on the Stroop test (participants become slower but more accurate), whilst slowing response times on the visual search test and having no effect on performance on the Sternberg paradigm. Furthermore, this work highlights the importance of the timing of the cognitive function tests relative to the exercise and the components of cognitive function examined in future studies. 

Keywords: Adolescents, cognitive function, exercise.

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