Effects of Acute Aerobic Exercise on Cognition and Constructs of Decision-Making in Adults With and Without Hypertension

Wesley K. Lefferts, Jacob P. DeBlois, Corey N. White, Kevin S. Heffernan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Hypertension accelerates brain aging, resulting in cognitive dysfunction with advancing age. Exercise is widely recommended for adults with hypertension to attenuate cognitive dysfunction. Whether acute exercise benefits cognitive function in this at-risk population is unknown. The purpose of this study was to compare the effects of acute aerobic exercise on cognitive function in 30 middle-aged hypertensive (HTN) and 30 age, sex, and body mass index (BMI)-matched non-HTN adults (56 ± 6 years, BMI 28.2 ± 2.9 kg/m2; 32 men). Subjects underwent cognitive testing pre/post 30-min cycling (≈55% peak oxygen consumption). Cognition was assessed using standard metrics of accuracy and reaction time (RT) across memory recognition, 2-back, and Flanker tasks. Behavioral data was further analyzed using drift-diffusion modeling to examine underlying components of decision-making (strength of evidence, caution, bias) and RT (non-decision time). Exercise elicited similar changes in cognitive function in both HTN and non-HTN groups (p > 0.05). Accuracy was unaltered for Flanker and 2-back tasks, while hits and false alarms increased for memory recognition post-exercise (p < 0.05). Modeling results indicated changes in memory hits/false alarms were due to significant changes in stimulus bias post-exercise. RT decreased for Flanker and memory recognition tasks and was driven by reductions in post-exercise non-decision time (p < 0.05). Our data indicate acute exercise resulted in similar, beneficial cognitive responses in both middle-age HTN and non-HTN adults, marked by unaltered task accuracy, and accelerated RT post-exercise. Additionally, drift-diffusion modeling revealed that beneficial acceleration of cognitive processing post-exercise (RT) is driven by changes in non-decision components (encoding/motor response) rather than the decision-making process itself.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number41
JournalFrontiers in Aging Neuroscience
StatePublished - Mar 8 2019


  • acute exercise
  • cognition
  • decision making
  • executive function
  • hypertension
  • mathematical modeling
  • memory
  • short-term

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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