Accumulating evidence suggests that physical activity improves explicit memory and executive cognitive functioning at the extreme ends of the lifespan (i.e., in older adults and children). However, it is unknown whether these associations hold for younger adults who are considered to be in their cognitive prime, or for implicit cognitive functions that do not depend on motor sequencing. Here we report the results of a study in which we examine the relationship between objectively measured physical activity and (1) explicit relational memory, (2) executive control, and (3) implicit probabilistic sequence learning in a sample of healthy, college-aged adults. The main finding was that physical activity was positively associated with explicit relational memory and executive control (replicating previous research), but negatively associated with implicit learning, particularly in females. These results raise the intriguing possibility that physical activity upregulates some cognitive processes, but downregulates others. Possible implications of this pattern of results for physical health and health habits are discussed.
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