Effects of Acute Resistance Exercise on Executive Function: A Systematic Review of the Moderating Role of Intensity and Executive Function Domain

  • Tzu Yu Huang (Creator)
  • Feng Tzu Chen (Creator)
  • Ruei Hong Li (Creator)
  • Charles H. Hillman (Creator)
  • Trevor L. Cline (Creator)
  • Chien Heng Chu (Creator)
  • Tsung-Min Hong (Creator)
  • Yu-Kai Chang (Creator)



Abstract Background Research has demonstrated that there is a beneficial effect of acute exercise on cognitive function; however, the moderators of the acute resistance exercise (RE) effect on executive function (EF) are underestimated. This systematic review aims to clarify the effects of acute RE on EF by examining the moderating effect of exercise intensity (light, moderate, and vigorous) and EF domains (inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility), as well as their interactions. Methods The search strategy was conducted in four databases (PubMed, Scopus, PsycARTICLES, and Cochrane Library) prior to January 29, 2022. Included studies had to: (1) investigate acute RE in adults with normal cognition and without diagnosed disease; (2) include a control group or control session for comparison; (3) include outcomes related to the core EF domains; and (4) be published in English. The methodological quality of the included studies was judged according to the PEDro scale guidelines. Results Nineteen studies were included which included a total of 692 participants. More than half of the outcomes (24/42, 57.14%) indicate that acute RE had a statistically significant positive effect on overall EF. In terms of RE intensity and EF domain, moderate intensity acute RE benefited EF more consistently than light and vigorous intensity acute RE. Acute RE-induced EF benefits were more often found for inhibitory control than for working memory and cognitive flexibility. When considering moderators simultaneously, measuring inhibitory control after light or moderate intensity RE and measuring working memory or cognitive flexibility after moderate intensity RE most often resulted in statistically significant positive outcomes. Conclusion Acute RE has a beneficial effect on EF, observed most consistently for inhibitory control following moderate intensity RE. Future studies should include all exercise intensities and EF domains as well as investigate other potential moderators to enable a better understanding of the benefits of acute RE on EF.
Date made available2023

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