Train like an astronaut: The effects of exercise on neurocognitive performance. Data from space and from school

Research output: Contribution to journalConference abstract in journalResearchpeer-review


Research units


Introduction: Living in space is regarded as a time-lapse of a sedentary life-style, as degenerative processes caused by weightlessness are extremely accelerated, which allows studying the underlying physiological mechanisms. Once these mechanisms are understood, it is possible (1) to define adequate countermeasures as well as (2) to translate these findings and countermeasures into everyday life. Whereas the positive impact of exercise in space on the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system is well documented and knowledge has been translated e.g. into physical rehabilitation of patients, recent research also shows a beneficial effect of exercise on neurocognitive performance. Within this paper we present data from two studies on the effects of physical activity on neurocognitive performance. Whereas the first study describes the effect of a 520-day isolation, simulating a journey to MARS, the second tries to translate these findings into an everyday life situation in school. Methods: Study 1: From June 2010 to 2011 six participants (aged 34+/-4) lived under isolated and confined conditions in the MARS500 habitat located in Moscow. Every week brain cortical activity was recorded before and after exercise. Cognitive performance was assessed using three commercially available brain games. Study 2: Non-major subjects in primary schools, such as arts, music and/or sport are regarded to be important not only for a wider general education but also to support concentrativeness and receptivity. Electro cortical activity using electroencephalography of sixteen school children (8-10 years) was recorded before and after (1) an aerobic exercise class and (2) an arts class. Performance in a standardized assessment of educational attainment was assessed following both classes. Results: Study 1: A significant decrease of frontal brain cortical activity after exercise was noticeable (p < .05) which was most expressed after endurance orientated protocols. Cognitive performance was improved following running sessions (p < .05). Study 2: A significant decrease of cortical activity (p < .05) was measurable in all four lobes after exercise but not art classes. No changes in cognitive performance were obtained. Discussion: Results of both studies show a distinct effect of exercise on brain cortical activity, recently described by the theory of transient hypofrontality. Nevertheless, it seems as if these effects and the related improvements in cognitive performance are not caused by exercise per se, but it is more likely that a general defocussing caused by an immersion into exercise, also known as the Flow-experience, is necessary to improve cognitive performance.
Original languageEnglish
Article number92
JournalJournal of Science and Medicine in Sports
Issue numberSuppl. 3
Pages (from-to)46
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 11.2017

ID: 3296933

View graph of relations