THE IMPACT OF ACUTE EXERCISE AND SLEEP QUALITY ON EXECUTIVE FUNCTION: THE POTENTIAL MEDIATING EFFECTS OF FUNCTIONAL CONNECTIVITY IN OLDER ADULTS
Alfini, Alfonso J.
Smith, J. Carson
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Background: Although, improved longevity is a major public health accomplishment, the prevalence of chronic disease, including cognitive impairment, increases with age. Insufficient sleep and physical inactivity exacerbate chronic disease and may accelerate the onset of dementia. While a cure remains elusive, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that exercise training facilitates better sleep and enhanced cognition. Exercise-altered patterns of neural activity, including resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) and task-based functional activation, likely coincide with and may facilitate cognitive improvements in the aging brain. Purpose: This study sought to examine the joint impact of acute exercise and sleep quality on executive function in older adults. We also aimed to determine the degree to which exercise-induced changes in prefrontal rsFC influence the relationship between sleep and executive function performance/functional activation. Methods: Using a within subjects counter-balanced design, 21 participants (aged 55-85) underwent at least three days of objective sleep monitoring (actigraphy), followed by two experimental visits on separate days. During each visit, participants engaged in 30-minutes of rest or exercise followed immediately by resting state and task-based functional MRI. After the MRI scanning session, participants completed several executive function assessments. Neuroimaging and behavioral data were processed using AFNI (version 17.1.06) and SPSS (version 23), respectively. Results: Repeated measures ANOVA and multivariate linear regression revealed two significant voxel-wise interactions in the (L) precuneus. Our findings demonstrated that acute exercise increased prefrontal rsFC and functional activation in long sleepers (> 7.5 hours/night), while decreasing these parameters for individuals with less total sleep time. Moreover, these results correspond to behavioral data demonstrating that acute exercise and adequate sleep improved select aspects of executive function performance, while decreasing inhibitory control in short sleepers alone (< 7.5 hours). Conclusion: These findings suggest that the effects of acute exercise on prefrontal rsFC are similar, or even related, to the effects of acute exercise on conflict-dependent functional activation, and that this relationship may depend on sleep duration. Moreover, our results imply that although acute exercise elicited improved executive function for those with adequate sleep, it may weaken already vulnerable, and perhaps fatigued, executive function networks among short sleepers.