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High-intensity exercise and cognitive function in cognitively normal older adults: A pilot randomised clinical trial

Brown, B.M.ORCID: 0000-0001-7927-2540, Frost, N., Rainey-Smith, S.R., Doecke, J., Markovic, S., Gordon, N., Weinborn, M., Sohrabi, H.R.ORCID: 0000-0001-8017-8682, Laws, S.M., Martins, R.N., Erickson, K.I. and Peiffer, J.J.ORCID: 0000-0002-3331-1177 (2021) High-intensity exercise and cognitive function in cognitively normal older adults: A pilot randomised clinical trial. Alzheimer's Research & Therapy, 13 . Article 33.

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Physical inactivity has been consistently linked to increased risk of cognitive decline; however, studies examining the impact of exercise interventions on cognition have produced inconsistent findings. Some observational studies suggest exercise intensity may be important for inducing cognitive improvements; however, this has yet to be thoroughly examined in older adult cohorts. The objective of the current study was to evaluate the effect of systematically manipulated high-intensity and moderate-intensity exercise interventions on cognition.


This multi-arm pilot randomised clinical trial investigated the effects of 6 months of high-intensity exercise and moderate-intensity exercise, compared with an inactive control, on cognition. Outcome measures were assessed at pre- (baseline), post- (6 months), and 12 months post-intervention. Ninety-nine cognitively normal men and women (aged 60–80 years) were enrolled from October 2016 to November 2017. Participants that were allocated to an exercise group (i.e. high-intensity or moderate-intensity) engaged in cycle-based exercise two times per week for 6 months. Cognition was assessed using a comprehensive neuropsychological test battery. Cardiorespiratory fitness was evaluated by a graded exercise test.


There was a dose-dependent effect of exercise intensity on cardiorespiratory fitness, whereby the high-intensity group experienced greater increases in fitness than the moderate-intensity and control groups. However, there was no direct effect of exercise on cognition.


We did not observe a direct effect of exercise on cognition. Future work in this field should be appropriately designed and powered to examine factors that may contribute to individual variability in response to intervention.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Psychology, Counselling, Exercise Science and Chiropractic
Publisher: Biomed Central
Copyright: © 2021 The Authors
United Nations SDGs: Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being
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