Benefits of acute aerobic exercise on cognitive function: Why do 50% of the studies find no connection?

PICTURE: The x-axis shows the participants’ basic cognitive performance (answer accuracy in the pre-test) and the y-axis shows the improvement in cognitive performance (ie changes in answer accuracy before and after the reaction). Red and Blue … view More

Source: Ishihara et al., Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 2021

Over the past 20 years, many studies have examined the effects of acute aerobic exercise on cognitive performance. In recent years, meta-analyzes * 1 of data from these previous research studies have shown that a single moderate aerobic exercise temporarily improves cognitive performance. However, a close examination of the individual research studies on this topic revealed that around 50% of the studies did not find a positive association between acute aerobic training and cognitive function.

An international research cooperation, including Associate Professor KAMIJO Keita (Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Chukyo University) and Assistant Professor ISHIHARA Toru (Graduate School of Human Development and Environment, Kobe University), conducted an IPD meta-analysis * 2 with the aim of doing this Resolve discrepancies. They conducted this analysis from the perspective of “What kind of people is this effective for?” and ‘Which cognitive functions benefit from it?’

Their results highlighted the following main issues related to the benefits of acute aerobic exercise on cognitive function: 1. The benefits were greater in those who originally had lower cognitive performance (ie, those with lower scores in the pre-test) (Figure 1). 2. These results show that acute aerobic exercise did not have major positive effects specifically for the prefrontal-dependent aspect of cognition, but rather general benefits for various types of cognitive performance.

These results were previously published in the online version of Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews on June 18, 2021.

main points

  • Meta-analysis studies conducted in recent years have shown that a single round of moderate aerobic exercise (acute aerobic exercise) temporarily improves cognitive performance. In addition, these analyzes have shown that this type of training is disproportionately beneficial for cognitive functions based on the prefrontal cortex * 3 and the networks connected to it.
  • However, upon closer inspection, about half of these previous studies found no beneficial effects from acute aerobic exercise.
  • The current research group conducted an IPD meta-analysis with the aim of resolving these discrepancies between the results of previous studies by focusing on what types of people benefited from them and what cognitive functions were affected.
  • They showed that acute aerobic exercise had a greater positive effect on people with lower cognitive performance.
  • These results show that acute aerobic exercise does not have major positive effects specifically on the prefrontal-dependent aspect of cognition, but rather general benefits on various aspects of cognitive performance.

Research significance

Many of the cognitive tests used in these earlier research studies that examined the prefrontal-dependent aspect of cognition have a high level of difficulty. According to the research available, acute aerobic exercise on the surface would have had greater benefits for the prefrontal-dependent aspect of cognition if the cognitive tests were difficult, in other words, if the participants had a low score on the pre-test. Many studies did not take into account individual differences in cognitive function and did not change testing difficulty accordingly, and this is believed to be related to the discrepancies between the results of the different studies. That said, it is possible to see the benefits of acute aerobic training when cognitive tests are appropriately selected and controlled by researchers.

This IPD meta-analysis has shown that taking into account individual differences in cognitive performance and testing difficulty can help reduce discrepancies between research studies on the topic. In addition, most studies to date have focused on the prefrontal-dependent aspect of cognition, but conducting studies that also focus on other types of cognitive function will help develop this area of ​​research.

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glossary

* 1 Meta-Analysis: A statistical analysis of the results of several independently conducted research studies. It is a method of analysis used to show what the combined results of previous research on a given topic show.

* 2 IPD meta-analysis: A meta-analysis of individual participant data (IPD).

* 3 Prefrontal Cortex: The front part of the brain that is located just behind the forehead. It is believed to be like the brain’s command center that controls higher mental functions.

Magazine information

Title: The Effects of Acute Aerobic Training on Executive Function: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Data of Individual Participant Participant

DOI: 10.1016 / j.neubiorev.2021.06.026

Authors: Toru Ishihara1, Eric S. Drollette2, Sebastian Ludyga3, Charles H. Hillman4, Keita Kamijo5

Affiliations: 1. Graduate School of Human Development and Environment, Kobe University, Japan 2. Department of Kinesiology, University of North Carolina Greensboro, USA 3. Department of Sport, Exercise and Health, University of Basel, Switzerland 4. Department of Psychology, Department of Physical Therapy, Movement, & Rehabilitation Sciences, Northeastern University, United States 5th Faculty of Humanities and Sciences, Chukyo University, Japan

Journal: Neuroscience and Biosafety Assessments

Release date: 2021/6/18

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