Physical activity is a promising intervention to restore cognitive function after prolonged sedentary periods. However, little is known about the effect of short physical activity bouts on cognition especially among individuals that are used to physical activity. Therefore, the goal of the present study was to assess the impact of a single ten-minute physical activity bout on the cognitive domain of visual attention compared to sedentary behavior in a population of physically active sport students. Using a randomized controlled design, 51 healthy and physically active sport students [mean age: 22.3 (SD: 2.0) years, 33.3% female] were allocated to one of the following interventions in the break of a two-hour study course: physical activity group (running for ten minutes) and sedentary control group. Visual attention was measured post-intervention using a modified trail making test. Pre-, post-, and 30 min after intervention, perceived attention, and affective states were measured. Between-group comparisons were used to analyze whether visual attention and/or changes in perceived attention or affective states differed between groups. The physical activity group showed significantly higher visual attention post-intervention compared with the sedentary control group, p = 0.003, d = 0.89. Perceived attention, p = 0.006, d = 0.87, and arousal, p < 0.001, d = 1.68, showed a significantly larger pre- and post-intervention increase in the physical activity group compared with the sedentary control group, which was not evident 30 min after intervention. A single ten-minute running intervention in study breaks might help to restore the basal visual attentional domain of cognition after prolonged sedentary periods more effectively compared with common sedentary behavior in breaks between study lessons.
Keywords: attention; cognition; cognitive functions; exercise; sedentary.