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Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Aug 2. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002115. [Epub ahead of print]

Acute Exercise Effects Predict Training Change in Cognition and Connectivity.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.
Department of Psychiatry, Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.
Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.
Department of Health and Human Physiology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.
Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.
Department of Biostatistics, College of Public Health, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.
Department of Radiology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.



Previous studies report memory and functional connectivity of memory systems improve acutely after a single aerobic exercise session or with training, suggesting the acute effects of aerobic exercise may reflect initial changes that adapt over time. In this trial, for the first time, we test the proof-of-concept of whether the acute and training effects of aerobic exercise on working memory and brain network connectivity are related in the same participants.


Cognitively normal older participants (N=34) were enrolled in a randomized clinical trial (NCT02453178). Participants completed fMRI resting state and a face working memory N-back task acutely after light and moderate intensity exercise and after a 12-week aerobic training intervention.


Functional connectivity did not change more after moderate compared with light intensity training. However, both training groups showed similar changes in cardiorespiratory fitness (maximal exercise oxygen uptake, VO2peak), limiting group-level comparisons. Acute effects of moderate intensity aerobic exercise on hippocampal-cortical connections in the default network predicted training enhancements in the same connections. Working memory also improved acutely, especially following moderate intensity, and greater acute improvements predicted greater working memory improvement with training. Exercise effects on functional connectivity of right lateralized fronto-parietal connections were related to both acute and training gains in working memory.


Our data support the concept of acute aerobic exercise effects on functional brain systems and performance as an activity-evoked biomarker for exercise training benefits in the same outcomes. These findings may lead to new insights and methods for improving memory outcomes with aerobic exercise training.

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