Exercise and Executive Function during Follicular and Luteal Menstrual Cycle Phases

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2020 Apr;52(4):919-927. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002192.


Purpose: A single bout of aerobic or resistance exercise improves executive function. We sought to determine whether menstrual cycle variations in ovarian hormone concentrations differentially influence the expression and/or magnitude of a postexercise executive benefit.

Methods: Eumenorrheic female participants completed 20-min single bouts of aerobic exercise (via cycle ergometer) at a moderate intensity (i.e., 80% of estimated lactate threshold) during the early follicular and midluteal phases of their menstrual cycle. Pre- and postexercise 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 postexercise executive changes because the task is mediated via the same frontoparietal networks as modified following single-bout and chronic exercise.

Results: Antisaccade reaction times decreased from the pre- to postexercise assessments by an average of 22 ms (P = 0.003), and this benefit was independent of changes in directional errors or end point accuracy (P's > 0.26). In other words, participants did not decrease their postexercise reaction times at the cost of increased planning times or execution errors. Most notably, the postexercise antisaccade benefit did not vary in magnitude across follicular or luteal phases (P = 0.33) and a two one-sided test statistic (i.e., equivalence testing) provided support for the null hypothesis (P = 0.008).

Conclusions: A postexercise executive benefit is independent of hormonal variations in the menstrual cycle. Further, our results evince that the phase of a female participant's menstrual cycle should not be a limiting factor in determining their inclusion in exercise neuroscience research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cardiorespiratory Fitness / physiology
  • Estrogens / blood
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Follicular Phase / physiology*
  • Follicular Phase / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Luteal Phase / physiology*
  • Luteal Phase / psychology*
  • Progesterone / blood
  • Reaction Time
  • Young Adult


  • Estrogens
  • Progesterone