25 Minutes Of Exercise Can Improve Knowledge

balance training

Sara Thompson – M.Sc. in Exercise Science

In my previous article, I discussed the use of exercise to improve physical and cognitive function in individuals with hypertension.

In this study, Junior and colleagues (Junior et al., 2017) measured improvements in physical function in older individuals with normotension (normal blood pressure) and hypertension (high blood pressure) following a 6-month multicomponent exercise program.

The Exercise Program

  1. Aerobic training

  2. Strength training

  3. Balance/proprioception

The program suggests that a multi-faceted exercise approach is a feasible strategy to improve physical function in the aging population. However, there were no improvements in executive function following the 6-month program.

The researchers acknowledge that while there is evidence that exercise can improve cognition, the mechanism behind this is not a well understood, and to date the optimal stimulus to elicit benefits in cognitive function remains unclear.

Related Article: Exercise Program For High Blood Pressure

A recent study

lat pulldownThe study aimed to test the effects of different training modalities on cognitive function (Dunsky et al., 2017). To determine if different facets of cognition respond differently to different stimuli, the researchers assessed both executive function and attention. Unlike the study by Junior et al., Dunsky and colleagues assessed the acute effects of exercise on measurements of cognition.

Thirty-nine healthy adults with a mean age of 52±8 years participated in this study.

In order to control for exercise intensity, participants first performed a maximal exercise test to determine their maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max). In this way, exercise intensity during the assessment was based on the individual’s fitness level.

Similarly, participants’ one repetition maximum (1RM: the maximum weight an individual can lift for one full repetition) was pre-determined for 6 resistance exercises.

On three separate occasions, participants performed a cognitive test before and after three different conditions:

  1. Aerobic exercise

  2. Resistance exercise

  3. Control session in which participants watched a video while seated

The Aerobic Exercise

25 minutes of treadmill walking at an intensity of 60% of their heart rate reserve (HRR: their maximum heart rate determined during the maximal exercise test minus their resting heart rate).

The Resistance Exercise

The resistance exercise was intended to be similar intensity and duration as the aerobic exercise. Participants completed 10 repetitions of each exercise at 75% of their 1RM, targeting the major muscle groups: chest press, leg press, lat pull down, seated row, seated squat, and shoulder press. Executive function and attention were assessed before and after each condition with a series of neuropsychological tests commonly used to assess cognitive function. Attention was assessed based on the reaction time to certain stimuli, whereas executive function was assessed by motor planning, hand-eye coordination and accuracy of each task.

The Aerobic Results

Following aerobic exercise, participants improved their attention and executive function compared to the control condition.

The Resistance Results

Following resistance exercise, participants improved their executive function compared to the control condition, however did not improve their attention score.

The authors suggest that the reason for this discrepancy could be because heart rate was not elevated enough to increase blood flow to the brain during the resistance exercise. The aim of the resistance exercise was to elicit a similar stimulus as aerobic exercise, however participants’ heart rate was lower both during and after the resistance exercise session compared to aerobic exercise. The authors also discuss that aerobic exercise might activate different regions of the brain compared to resistance exercise, and that these brain regions are associated with the different facets of cognitive function.


The main finding of this study is that acute aerobic and acute resistance exercise improves executive function. Aerobic exercise appears to also improve attention, however it remains to be determined if this is due to differences in intensity or modality. As we know, aerobic and resistance exercise are important for general health so both should be incorporated into your daily lifestyle.

Most significantly, improvements in cognitive function occurred after only one 25-minute bout of exercise. That isn’t a big time out of your day, and you’ll feel energized both physically and mentally!

Related Article: 90 Seconds A Day Of HIIT Might Be All You Need

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Junior, H. J. C., Rodrigues, B., Feriani, D. J., Gonçalves, I., Asano, R. Y. et al. (2017).  Effects of Multicomponent Exercise on Functional and Cognitive Parameters of Hypertensive Patients: A Quasi-Experimental Study. Journal of Aging Research, Mar 19 [Epub ahead of print].

Dunsky, A., Abu-Rukun, M., Tsuk, S., Dwolatzky, T. Carasso, R., & Netz, Y. (2017). The effects of a resistance vs. an aerobic single session on attention and executive functioning in adults. PLos One, 12(4), e0176092.

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