Acute Effects of Resistance Exercise on Cognitive Function in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review with Multilevel Meta-Analysis

Sports Med. 2019 Jun;49(6):905-916. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01085-x.


Background: Recent research has revealed a beneficial impact of chronic resistance exercise (RE) on brain function. However, it is unclear as to whether RE is also effective in an acute setting.

Objective: To investigate the immediate effects of a single RE session on cognitive performance in healthy adults.

Methods: A multilevel meta-analysis with random effects meta-regression model was used to pool the standardized mean differences (SMD) between RE and no-exercise (NEX) as well as between RE and aerobic exercise (AE). In addition to global cognitive function, effects on reported sub-domains (inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, working memory, attention) were examined.

Results: Twelve trials with fair methodological quality (PEDro scale) were identified. Compared to NEX, RE had a positive effect on global cognition (SMD: 0.56, 95% CI 0.22-0.90, p = 0.004), but was not superior to AE (SMD: - 0.10, 95% CI 0.01 to - 0.20, p = 0.06). Regarding cognitive sub-domains, RE, compared to NEX, improved inhibitory control (SMD: 0.73, 95% CI 0.21-1.26, p = 0.01) and cognitive flexibility (SMD: 0.36, 95% CI 0.17-0.55, p = 0.004). In contrast, working memory (SMD: 0.35, 95% CI - 0.05 to 0.75, p = 0.07) and attention (SMD: 0.79, 95% CI - 0.42 to 2.00, p = 0.16) remained unaffected. No significant differences in sub-domains were found between RE and AE (p > 0.05).

Conclusion: RE appears to be an appropriate method to immediately enhance cognitive function in healthy adults. Further studies clearly elucidating the impact of effect modifiers such as age, training intensity, or training duration are warranted.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Resistance Training*