The effects of exercise on cognitive functioning : the moderating role of aging

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jarod C. Vance (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Jennifer Etnier

Abstract: Numerous studies have examined how both chronic exercise engagement and single bouts of aerobic exercise impact cognitive functioning in a variety of populations. Across these studies it has been shown that single bouts of aerobic exercise have an enhancing effect on cognitive performance and that chronic exercise is positively associated with cognitive performance. Despite the promising research to date, few studies have examined the effects of acute or chronic exercise on older adults and even fewer have sought to examine the effects aging has on the exercise – cognition relationship. Therefore, the purpose of this dissertation was to examine how aging impacts the exercise – cognition relationship in two concurrently running studies. The purpose of study 1 was to examine if age group moderates the relationship between physical activity engagement and cognitive functioning. Study 1 was a cross-sectional design and consisted of one visit. Participants included both sedentary and physically active participants from age groups of young (20 – 30 years old) and older adults (60 – 70 years old). Participants filled out questionnaires assessing physical activity engagement and demographics and completed a battery of cognitive tasks assessing episodic memory and executive functioning. The purpose of study 2 was to examine how a single bout of moderate intensity aerobic exercise impacts episodic memory and executive functioning and to examine if aging moderates the effects. Study 2 was a mixed design with 3 visits. Participants included recreationally active (>90 mins/week) young (20 – 30 years old) and older adults (60 – 70 years old). Visits 2 and 3 were counterbalanced participation in a 20-min bout of aerobic exercise or resting for 20-mins on a cycle ergometer before completing tasks assessing episodic memory and executive functioning. In terms of cross-sectional associations, the results supported that age group had a significant negative impact on memory and executive functioning, and that for both young and older adults’ engagement in physical activity is beneficial for memory performance but not for executive functioning. Results also showed that following an acute bout of aerobic exercise there are significant enhancements in memory performance. In addition, for selected aspects of memory performance (learning and long-term memory) older adults benefited more from an acute bout of aerobic exercise compared to young adults. The results were mixed for executive functioning with select enhancements on inhibition. For the most difficult portion of the working memory task, older adults had significant improvements in their performance compared to young adults who showed no change. The current results indicate that for both young and older adults, physical activity engagement is positively related to memory performance which could indicate that both age groups stand to gain similar benefits. The results of study 2 show that older adults do indeed stand to gain more benefit from a single bout of aerobic exercise in terms of their episodic memory performance, and their ability to retain spatial information and manipulate remembered items in working memory. This is promising as numerous studies including this one have shown that older adults have diminished cognitive functioning and a behavioral treatment such as exercise could potentially counteract some of these deficits related to aging.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2022
Acute exercise, Executive functioning, Memory, Older adults, Physical activity
Cognition $x Effect of exercise on
Aerobic exercises $x Psychological aspects
Older people $x Health and hygiene

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