The effect of acute high-intensity interval training on executive function: A systematic review

Jing Yi Ai, Feng Tzu Chen, Shu Shih Hsieh, Shih Chun Kao, Ai Guo Chen*, Tsung Min Hung*, Yu Kai Chang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Acute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a time-efficient strategy to improve physical health; however, the effect of acute HIIT on executive function (EF) is unclear. The aim of this study was to systematically review the existing evidence and quantify the effect of acute HIIT on overall EF and the factors affecting the relationship between acute HIIT and EF. Standard databases (i.e., the PubMed, Medline, Scopus, and CENTRAL databases) were searched for studies that examined the effect of acute HIIT on EF and were published up until January 2021. The overall EF and factors grouped by three categories, namely, EF assessment characteristics, exercise intervention characteristics, and sample and study characteristics, were analyzed by percentage of comparison for positive or null/negative effects. Overall, 35 of 57 outcomes (61%) across 24 studies revealed that acute HIIT has a positive effect on overall EF. In terms of factors, the results indicated that among EF assessment characteristics, groups, inhibition, updating, and the assessment occurring within 30 min may moderate the effect of acute HIIT on EF, while among exercise intervention characteristics, total time within 11 to 30 min may moderate the effect. Finally, among sample characteristics, age under 40 years may moderate the effect. Acute HIIT is generally considered a viable alternative for eliciting EF gains, with factors related to EF components, timing of the assessment, exercise total time, and age potentially moderating the effect of HIIT on EF.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3593
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Apr 1


  • Acute exercise
  • Cognitive function
  • Executive function
  • Exercise
  • High-intensity interval training
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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