Sprint-based exercise and cognitive function in adolescents

Moderate intensity exercise has been shown to enhance cognition in an adolescent population, yet the effect of high-intensity sprint-based exercise remains unknown and was therefore examined in the present study. Following ethical approval and familiarisation, 44 adolescents (12.6 ± 0.6 y) completed an exercise (E) and resting (R) trial in a counter-balanced, randomised crossover design. The exercise trial comprised of 10 × 10 s running sprints, interspersed by 50 s active recovery (walking). A battery of cognitive function tests (Stroop, Digit Symbol Substitution (DSST) and Corsi blocks tests) were completed 30 min pre-exercise, immediately post-exercise and 45 min post-exercise. Data were analysed using mixed effect models with repeated measures. Response times on the simple level of the Stroop test were significantly quicker 45 min following sprint-based exercise (R: 818 ± 33 ms, E: 772 ± 26 ms; p = 0.027) and response times on the complex level of the Stroop test were quicker immediately following the sprint-based exercise (R: 1095 ± 36 ms, E: 1043 ± 37 ms; p = 0.038), while accuracy was maintained. Sprint-based exercise had no immediate or delayed effects on the number of items recalled on the Corsi blocks test (p = 0.289) or substitutions made during the DSST (p = 0.689). The effect of high intensity sprint-based exercise on adolescents' cognitive function was dependant on the component of cognitive function examined. Executive function was enhanced following exercise, demonstrated by improved response times on the Stroop test, whilst visuo-spatial memory and general psycho-motor speed were unaffected. These data support the inclusion of high-intensity sprint-based exercise for adolescents during the school day to enhance cognition.