Acute Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training on Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Cortisol and Working Memory in Physical Education College Students

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Nov 6;17(21):8216. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17218216.


High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is considered one of the most effective methods for improving cardiorespiratory and metabolic functions. However, it is necessary to clarify their effects on neurophysiological responses and coginitive functioning. Thus, this study aimed to determine the effects of an acute bout of HIIT on neurocognitive and stress-related biomarkers and their association with working memory (WM) capacity in healthy young adults. Twenty-five male college students performed a single bout of HIIT consisting of 10 × 1 min of cycling at their VO2 peak power output. Plasma Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and cortisol (CORT) levels, and WM (Digit Span Test (DST)), were assessed pre-, post- and 30 min post-intervention. Significant post-exercise increases in circulating BDNF and CORT levels were observed coinciding with the highest DST performance; however, no statistical associations were found between cognitive and neurophysiological variables. Moreover, DST scores obtained 30 min after exercise remained higher than those assessed at pre-exercise. In conclusion, the stress induced by a single bout of HIIT induces a remarkable response of BDNF and CORT boosting WM capacity in healthy young males. Future research should clarify the association between cognitive and neurobiological markers during intense exercise stimulation.

Keywords: HIIT; cognition; executive functions; exercise; neurotrophins; stress responses.

MeSH terms

  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor*
  • High-Intensity Interval Training*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Students
  • Young Adult


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Hydrocortisone