Moderate Cardiovascular Exercise Speeds Up Neural Markers of Stimulus Evaluation During Attentional Control Processes
Moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise appears to provide a low-cost ""intervention"" on neurocognitive processes such as attentional control, yet the effects vary depending, for example, on cognitive task, time of testing, or exercise intensity. However, while a number of studies show that brief bouts of acute exercise can modulate behavioral indices of cognitive control, relatively few studies have attempted to identify the brain activity associated with these changes immediately following exercise. Here, we tested 11 young adults in a crossover design with a Flanker task at rest and immediately (within 2-3 min) following 20 min of acute exercise at 60% of the individual VO2max. In order to prevent delayed exercise effects that might confound or dilute immediate effects, a short version of the Flanker task (8 min) was chosen and an EEG was recorded simultaneously. The N2 and P3 ERP components were analyzed in addition to accuracy and response time. The N2 reflects conflict resolution, and the P3 has been linked to stimulus evaluation processes. No effect of exercise was found for behavioral data but P3 peak latencies were shorter following exercise as compared to rest. The N2 amplitude data suggest that exercise seems to prevent a decline in resources of attentional control over time. These data indicate that acute exercise, at a moderate intensity level, speeds up neural processing of attentional control by modulating stimulus evaluation processes immediately following exercise and that exercise helps maintain a steady level of neurocognitive resources.