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Examining physical activity mode and intensity on cognitive functioning in young adults Gooderham, Geoffrey Kyle


The effect of physical activity (PA) on cognition has long been recognized. However, despite a well-documented PA-cognition association in older adults and children, the effect of PA on cognitive functioning in young adults remains unclear. Further complicating the PA-cognition association is that as research in this field has expanded, different methodologies, interventions, and cognitive assessments have led to a diversity of findings and inconsistent results. Diversity in the protocol of PA-cognition studies has made direct comparison of results challenging because of the numerous known variables that moderate the PA-cognition relationship. Additionally, the intermediate period between the near and long-term timescales, particularly in this population, is an under-investigated area of research. Unfortunately, this unattended timeframe may prove vital in understanding why results are not systematically convergent. In this study we examine the PA-cognition relationship in young adults over seven-days while accounting for other covariates known to moderate the PA-cognition association. The aim of this work is to address how some of the variance in findings is related to PA mode and intensity, and to consider how interplay between age, sex, physical fitness, and sleep alter those relationships. In addition, we examine two broad aspects of cognitive function, attention and working memory, in order to compare directly the effect of PA on cognitive performance. Statistical analysis showed that PA plays an important role in a subset of cognitive processes, with a pronounced PA-cognition relationship at these intermediate periods. Additionally, we demonstrate that PA modes and intensities differentially effected cognitive processes, such that particular combinations of mode and intensity benefitted cognition processes selectively. Further, we have confirmed the importance of sex as an influential predictor of cognitive performance. Despite assessing theoretically similar cognitive processes, it is evident from the differential findings that the neurophysiological effects of PA may achieve neurocognitive gains selectively. Generally, these results suggest that PA is predictive of cognitive performance on attentional tasks, but little evidence supports gains in working memory in young adults at intermediate timescales.

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