Purpose: Blood flow restriction (BFR) walking is recognized as a beneficial strategy for increasing skeletal muscle mass and strength. No study has examined the effect of BFR exercise on cognitive functions, including executive function (EF). In this study, we examined the effect of BFR walking on EF.
Methods: We performed two studies, at rest and exercise, with BFR or non-BFR (NBFR) in a crossover design. Sitting rest was performed for 15 min (study 1, n = 8). Exercise was programmed at five sets of 2-min walking at 5 km·h with 1-min rest intervals (study 2, n = 16). The BFR condition was achieved using 200 mm Hg pressure cuffs placed around the proximal region of the thighs. The NBFR condition involved no pressure cuffs. EF was assessed using the color-word Stroop task before and after each condition.
Results: In study 1, there were no significant effects on EF parameters for both BFR and NBFR conditions, suggesting that BFR alone does not improve EF. In study 2, incongruent reaction time shortened after BFR walking compared with that before walking (P = 0.001). Furthermore, the reverse Stroop interference score decreased after BFR walking compared with that before walking (P < 0.001).
Conclusion: These findings suggest that, even with a mild exercise, BFR walking improves EF independently of the effect of BFR alone or walking alone.