A single aerobic exercise session accelerates movement execution but not central processing
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Previous research has demonstrated that aerobic exercise has disparate effects on speed of processing and movement execution. In simple and choice reaction tasks, aerobic exercise appears to increase speed of movement execution while speed of processing is unaffected. In the flanker task, aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce response time on incongruent trials more than congruent trials, purportedly reflecting a selective influence on speed of processing related to cognitive control. However, it is unclear how changes in speed of processing and movement execution contribute to these exercise-induced changes in response time during the flanker task. This study examined how a single session of aerobic exercise influences speed of processing and movement execution during a flanker task using electromyography to partition response time into reaction time and movement time, respectively. Movement time decreased during aerobic exercise regardless of flanker congruence but returned to pre-exercise levels immediately after exercise. Reaction time during incongruent flanker trials decreased over time in both an aerobic exercise and non-exercise control condition indicating it was not specifically influenced by exercise. This disparate influence of aerobic exercise on movement time and reaction time indicates the importance of partitioning response time when examining the influence of aerobic exercise on speed of processing. The decrease in reaction time over time independent of aerobic exercise indicates that interpreting pre-to-post exercise changes in behavior requires caution.
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