A post-exercise facilitation of executive function is independent of aerobically supported metabolic costs

Neuropsychologia. 2018 Nov;120:65-74. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.10.002. Epub 2018 Oct 13.


A single-bout of aerobic or resistance training facilitates executive function and is a benefit thought to be specific to exercise durations greater than 20 min. We sought to determine whether an executive benefit is observed for a session as brief as 10-min, and whether distinct and participant-specific exercise intensities - and associated metabolic costs - influence the magnitude of the benefit. Participants completed exercise sessions - via cycle ergometer - at moderate (80% of lactate threshold [LT]), heavy (15% of the difference between LT and VO2 peak) and very-heavy (50% of the difference between LT and VO2 peak) intensities determined via an incremental ramp test to volitional exhaustion. Pre- and post-exercise executive function was examined via antisaccades - an executive task requiring a saccade mirror-symmetrical to a visual stimulus. Antisaccades are an ideal tool for examining post-exercise executive changes due to the resolution of eye-tracking and because the task is mediated via the same frontoparietal networks as modified following single-bout and chronic exercise. A non-executive prosaccade task (i.e., saccade to veridical target location) was also completed to determine if the putative post-exercise benefit was specific to executive function. Results showed a 20 ms reduction in pre- to post-exercise antisaccade RTs (p < .02) and was independent of exercise intensity, whereas no such change was observed for prosaccades (p = .14). Furthermore, the antisaccade benefit occurred without concomitant changes in directional errors or endpoint accuracy; that is, participants did not decrease their post-exercise RTs at the cost of increased planning and execution errors (ps > 0.34). Accordingly, we propose that an exercise duration as brief as 10-min provides a reliable benefit to executive function and is an effect observed across the continuum of moderate to very-heavy intensities.

Keywords: Aerobic; Antisaccade; Executive function; Exercise intensity; Single-bout.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Eye Movement Measurements
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult