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Effects of a maximal exercise test on neurocognitive function


Objective: To examine the effects of a maximal exercise test on cognitive function in recreational athletes.

Design: A repeated-measures design was used to compare baseline with post-cognitive function and fatigue symptoms after a maximal exercise test.

Setting: Division 1 American Midwestern University, (Michigan State University, Michigan, USA).

Participants: 102 male and female recreational athletes.

Intervention: Participants in the experimental group (n = 54) were asked to perform a maximal treadmill exercise test to maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max). Participants in the control group were asked to rest for 15 min.

Main outcome measurements: All participants were administered a neuropsychological test battery called Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) before and after exercise to measure neurocognitive function and fatigue symptoms.

Results: Results revealed a significant group (control, experimental)×time (baseline, post-test 1, post-test 2) interaction for verbal memory composite scores (p = 0.025). Specifically, verbal memory composite scores decreased in the experimental group from baseline to post-test 1 (p = 0.00). These values returned to baseline 3 days after the Vo2 max test (p = 0.00). Further analysis on verbal memory composite scores demonstrated significant differences on immediate recall memory (p = 0.00) and delayed recall memory (p = 0.00). No significant differences were observed for visual memory (p = 0.54), motor processing speed (p = 0.68) and reaction time (p = 0.44) composite scores between the experimental and control groups.

Conclusion: The results of this study suggest that a maximal exercise test attenuated a limiting effect on cognitive function. When utilising a neuropsychological test battery to evaluate a patient who has sustained a head injury, the test should not be administered immediately after a practice or a game session.

  • imPACT, Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing
  • VO2 max, maximal oxygen uptake

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