The effects of a resistance vs. an aerobic single session on attention and executive functioning in adults

PLoS One. 2017 Apr 25;12(4):e0176092. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0176092. eCollection 2017.


Evidence from recent studies showed that acute aerobic exercise results in improvements in different cognitive functions. The goal of this study was to assess the influence of acute bouts of aerobic versus resistance exercise on attention and executive function in adults. Thirty-nine physically active adults (age = 52±8 yr) served as participants. Each participant visited the laboratory four times: on the first visit participants performed a cognitive test (NeuroTrax) followed by an aerobic fitness assessment, as well as maximal strength test composed of six exercises. During visits 2-4, participants completed the cognitive test before and after the experimental condition, which consisted of either 25 min of aerobic exercise or resistance exercise, or watching a recorded interview show in a seated position (control condition). Findings indicated significantly higher changes in scores of attention after acute aerobic exercise (mean change 3.46, 95% CI -0.32, 7.27) than following the control condition (mean change -0.64, 95% CI -2.23, 0.96). The changes following resistance exercise (mean change -0.67, 95% CI -4.47, 3.13) were not significantly different from the changes following the control condition. Executive function scores showed a marginally significant improvement following acute aerobic (mean change 4.06, 95% CI 1.68, 6.44) and resistance exercise (mean change 3.69, 95% CI 0.78, 6.60), but not after control (mean change 0.91, 95% CI -1.21, 3.02). We suggest that adults should consider augmenting both modalities into their training routines, which may improve their cognition in addition to providing other physical benefits.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Physical Fitness / physiology
  • Physical Fitness / psychology
  • Resistance Training

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.