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Effect of Exercise Intensity and Cognitive Demand on Acute Changes in Vigilance and Attention

Many studies have investigated the effects of exercise on cognition; however, due to the array of cognitive assessments and various exercise protocols used in the studies, no definite conclusion has been made to whether exercise affects cognitive function. Most studies that have found some positive effects on cognitive function used a moderate-intensity (~70-75%HRmax) aerobic exercise ranging from 15 to 60 minutes. Recently, efficacy of high intensity aerobic training (HIT) on improving health and fitness has been demonstrated; however, little is known regarding the effect of this type of exercise on cognitive function. Also, few studies have investigated the time-course of changes in cognition after an acute bout of aerobic exercise, especially changes in the higher processes of cognition such as attention and vigilance. It is suggested that a specific relationship does exist between the task performed and modulations observed. That is, when more attention is required in a task, the greater the modulation of attention is observed. Therefore, it is assumed that an aerobic exercise requiring more control and cognitive resources will affect cognitive function more than a simple aerobic exercise.

Therefore, the purpose of this PhD project is to investigate the effects of exercise intensity and cognitive demand during exercise on attention and vigilance. This will be achieved by 1) comparing three (low, moderate and high) intensities of aerobic cycling exercise for changes in attention and vigilance scores before, immediately after, and at 15 min intervals for 2 hours after exercise; 2) investigating whether a more complex cycling exercise, whereby participants are required to closely match instantaneous power output with required target power output, will modulate attention and vigilance more, as compared to steady-state computer-controlled cycling; and 3) examining the effects of HIT (i.e. 10 x 1 HIT cycling session) on attention and vigilance, and comparing the effects to continuous cycling at a similar total time duration of exercise. Participants for these studies will be healthy young adults (18-35years), although children and older adults may be tested in future studies.

These studies will clarify the effects of aerobic exercise on cognitive function.

Project duration



Mr Benjamin Kan
Professor Ken Nosaka
Professor Craig Speelman
The University of Western Australia (Aus), Professor Gary Thickbroom

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