Nutrition and Health Sciences, Department of


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Published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 48:10 (Oct 2016), pp 1994-2002. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000974


Copyright © 2016 by the American College of Sports Medicine. Used by permission.


Purpose: A positive association between cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and cognitive function has been demonstrated mainly in children and older adults. Women attending college live in a cognitively demanding setting where optimal cognition matters but often experience declines in CRF. Our aim was to test whether CRF is associated with executive function in young adult women.

Methods: Participants in this cross-sectional study included 120 healthy women age 18–35 yr in a university setting. Each woman completed a maximal treadmill-based exercise test to determine peak oxygen uptake (V˙O2peak), computerized tests of executive function, and questionnaires to assess motivation and other factors with potential to influence physical and cognitive performance.

Results: Overall CRF was excellent, with a sample mean V˙O2peak of 44.6 mL·min–1·kg–1. After adjusting for covariates, higher V˙O2peak was associated with better performance on attention (P < 0.01), learning/ shifting (P < 0.01), working memory (P < 0.01), and problem-solving (P < 0.05) tasks. Likewise, when women were grouped according to the American College of Sports Medicine fitness classification, performance on executive function tasks was poorest in women with very poor or poor CRF. Women with superior CRF performed best on executive function tasks, and performance was intermediate in women with fair, good, or excellent CRF.

Conclusion: The findings from this cross-sectional study suggest that optimal cognition is related to CRF in young adult women. Future studies are needed to test whether strategies to improve CRF are effective in improving cognitive function.