The effect of acute aerobic and resistance exercise on working memory

Matthew B. Pontifex, Charles H. Hillman, Bo Fernhall, Kelli M. Thompson, Teresa A. Valentini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The goal of this investigation was to assess the influence of acute bouts of aerobic versus resistance exercise on the executive control of working memory. Methods: Twenty-one young adult participants completed a cardiorespiratory fitness test and maximal strength tests. On subsequent days, task performance measures of reaction time (RT) and accuracy were collected while participants completed a modified Sternberg working memory task before the start of, immediately after, and 30 min after an intervention consisting of 30 min of either resistance or aerobic exercise and a seated rest control. Results: Findings indicated shorter RT immediately and 30 min after acute aerobic exercise relative to the preexercise baseline with no such effects observed after resistance exercise or seated rest. Further, in the aerobic condition, a larger reduction in RT from the baseline occurred during task conditions requiring increased working memory capacity. Again, no effect was observed in the resistance exercise or the seated rest conditions. Conclusion: These data extend the current knowledge base by indicating that acute exercise-induced changes in cognition are disproportionately related to executive control and may be specific to the aerobic exercise domain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)927-934
Number of pages8
JournalMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • Cognition
  • Executive control
  • Reaction time
  • Sternberg task

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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