Exercise-cognition interaction in hyperoxia during applied underwater fin-swimming in SCUBA-diving

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Executive functions (EF) positively interact with moderate and severe exercise intensity in laboratory studies, but this interaction might be modulated by environmental factors, oxygen supply, and resulting changes in prefrontal and muscle oxygenation1–3. These aspects are combined in the applied setting of SCUBA-diving, where hyperoxia occurs when breathing air at depth, and gas mixtures with elevated oxygen fractions are commonly used4. Intact EFs enable higher-level processes like goal-directed behavior and problem-solving, which are highly relevant in the demanding underwater environment, and especially in critical situations or rescue scenarios where additional exercise stress occurs. It was hypothesized that (I) the positive interaction between exercise intensity and EF performance would be amplified by an increased inspiratory oxygen pressure (PIO2) and (II) that environmental impacts and increased physiological demands might attenuate this effect during severe exercise intensity.
Based on a priori power analysis (f = 0.5; Power 1-β = 0.9), 15 experienced SCUBA-divers (age:27 ± 6 years; 7 females) performed 3×8 min of underwater fin-swimming (UFS; 4m depth) at individual work rate intensities of 20% (low), 30% (moderate), and 55% (severe) heart rate reserve. HRmax was derived from an incremental UFS step test. Eriksen Flanker tasks for inhibition, which is considered a core EF, were performed directly after rest and exercise at the pool's edge (100 stimuli). This scenario was repeated on three separate days with different oxygen fractions in the breathing gas (21%, 40%, 100% O2; double-blind). ANOVAs with repeated measures on the factor intensity (rest, low, moderate, severe) and gas were performed for the normally distributed variables accuracy (ACC) and reaction times that required inhibitory control (RTincom).
RTincom showed a significant main effect for intensity (P < 0.001; ηp2 = 0.4) but not for gas. Significantly faster RTs were observed after severe intensity exercise compared to rest (P = 0.022), low (P < 0.001), and moderate-intensity (P < 0.001). ACC showed no effects.
Discussion and Conclusion:
The results comply with superior EF performance after severe exercise from elevated lactate and serotonin levels5,6. Cerebral oxygenation was possibly maintained during exercise7 despite environmental and exercise-dependent competing physiological demands8, which hyperoxia might have met. In summary, EF performance was slightly elevated and remained intact during hyperoxic exercise settings in SCUBA-diving.

1Sudo et al. (2017), 10.1007/s00421-017-3692-z 2Ando et al. (2009), 10.1007/s00421-009-0989-6
3Pontifex et al. (2019), 10.1016/j.psychsport.2018.08.015 4Bosco et al. (2018), 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00072
5Zimmer et al. (2016), 10.1007/s00421-016-3456-1 6Hashimoto et al. (2018), 10.1096/fj.201700381RR
7Moreau et al. (2019), 10.1177/1745691619850568 8Tempest et al. (2017), 10.1016/j.bandc.2017.02.001.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBook of Abstracts of the 27th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science : 30 August-2 September 2022
Number of pages1
PublisherEuropean College of Sport Science
Publication date2022
ISBN (Print)978-3-9818414-5-9
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-9818414-5-9
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventAnnual Congress of the
European College of Sport Science
- Sevilla, Sevilla, Spain
Duration: 30.08.202202.09.2022
Conference number: 27