Absolute and relative reliability of acute effects of aerobic exercise on executive function in seniors

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Lars Donath
  • Sebastian Ludyga
  • Daniel Hammes
  • Anja Rossmeissl
  • Nadin Andergassen
  • Lukas Zahner
  • Oliver Faude

Research units


BACKGROUND: Aging is accompanied by a decline of executive function. Aerobic exercise training induces moderate improvements of cognitive domains (i.e., attention, processing, executive function, memory) in seniors. Most conclusive data are obtained from studies with dementia or cognitive impairment. Confident detection of exercise training effects requires adequate between-day reliability and low day-to-day variability obtained from acute studies, respectively. These absolute and relative reliability measures have not yet been examined for a single aerobic training session in seniors.

METHODS: Twenty-two healthy and physically active seniors (age: 69 ± 3 y, BMI: 24.8 ± 2.2, VO2peak: 32 ± 6 mL/kg/bodyweight) were enrolled in this randomized controlled cross-over study. A repeated between-day comparison [i.e., day 1 (habituation) vs. day 2 & day 2 vs. day 3] of executive function testing (Eriksen-Flanker-Test, Stroop-Color-Test, Digit-Span, Five-Point-Test) before and after aerobic cycling exercise at 70% of the heart rate reserve [0.7 × (HRmax - HRrest)] was conducted. Reliability measures were calculated for pre, post and change scores.

RESULTS: Large between-day differences between day 1 and 2 were found for reaction times (Flanker- and Stroop Color testing) and completed figures (Five-Point test) at pre and post testing (0.002 < p < 0.05, 0.16 < ɳp2 < 0.38). These differences notably declined when comparing day 2 and 3. Absolute between days variability (CoV) dropped from 10 to 5% when comparing day 2 vs. day 3 instead of day 1 vs. day 2. Also ICC ranges increased from day 1 vs. day 2 (0.65 < ICC < 0.87) to day 2 vs. day 3 (0.40 < ICC < 0.93). Interestingly, reliability measures for pre-post change scores were low (0.02 < ICC < 0.71). These data did not improve when comparing day 2 with day 3. During inhibition tests, reaction times showed excellent reliability values compared to the poor to fair reliability of accuracy.

CONCLUSION: Notable habituation to the whole testing procedure should be considered as it increased the reliability of different executive function tests. Change scores of executive function after acute aerobic exercise cannot be detected reliably. Large intra- and inter-individual of responses to acute aerobic exercise in seniors can be presumed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number247
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 25.10.2017

ID: 3293908

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