Effects of acute aerobic exercise on mnemonic discrimination performance in older adults

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Callow, D., Pena, G., Stark, C., & Smith, J. (2023). Effects of acute aerobic exercise on mnemonic discrimination performance in older adults. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 29(6), 519-528.


Objectives:Ample evidence suggests exercise is beneficial for hippocampal function. Furthermore, a single session of aerobic exercise provides immediate benefits to mnemonic discrimination performance, a highly hippocampal-specific memory process, in healthy younger adults. However, it is unknown if a single session of aerobic exercise alters mnemonic discrimination in older adults, who generally exhibit greater hippocampal deterioration and deficits in mnemonic discrimination performance. Methods: We conducted a within subject acute exercise study in 30 cognitively healthy and physically active older adults who underwent baseline testing and then completed two experimental visits in which they performed a mnemonic discrimination task before and after either 30 min of cycling exercise or 30 min of seated rest. Linear mixed-effects analyses were conducted in which condition order and age were controlled, time (pre vs. post) and condition (exercise vs. rest) were modeled as fixed effects, and subject as a random effect. Results: No significant time by condition interaction effect was found for object recognition (p = .254, η2 =.01), while a significant reduction in interference was found for mnemonic discrimination performance following the exercise condition (p = .012, η2 =.07). A post-intervention only analysis indicated that there was no difference between condition for object recognition (p = .186, η2 =.06), but that participants had better mnemonic discrimination performance (p < .001, η2 =.22) following the exercise. Conclusions: Our results suggest a single session of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise may reduce interference and elicit better mnemonic discrimination performance in healthy older adults, suggesting benefits for hippocampal-specific memory function.