Exercise intensity-dependent effects of arm and leg-cycling on cognitive performance

Mathew Hill, Steve Walsh, Chris Talbot, Mike Price, Michael Duncan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
57 Downloads (Pure)


Physiological responses to arm and leg-cycling are different, which may influence psychological and biological mechanisms that influence post-exercise cognitive performance. The aim of this study was to determine the effects of maximal and submaximal (absolute and relative intensity matched) arm and leg-cycling on executive function. Thirteen males (age, 24.7 ± 5.0 years) initially undertook two incremental exercise tests to volitional exhaustion for arm-cycling (82 ± 18 W) and leg-cycling (243 ± 52 W) for the determination of maximal power output. Participants subsequently performed three 20-min constant load exercise trials: (1) arm-cycling at 50% of the ergometer-specific maximal power output (41 ± 9 W), (2) leg-cycling at 50% of the ergometer-specific maximal power output (122 ± 26 W), and (3) leg-cycling at the same absolute power output as the submaximal arm-cycling trial (41 ± 9 W). An executive function task was completed before, immediately after and 15-min after each exercise test. Exhaustive leg-cycling increased reaction time (p < 0.05, d = 1.17), while reaction time reduced following exhaustive arm-cycling (p < 0.05, d = -0.62). Improvements in reaction time were found after acute relative intensity arm (p < 0.05, d = -0.76) and leg-cycling (p < 0.05, d = -0.73), but not following leg-cycling at the same absolute intensity as arm-cycling (p > 0.05). Improvements in reaction time following arm-cycling were maintained for at least 15-min post exercise (p = 0.008, d = -0.73). Arm and leg-cycling performed at the same relative intensity elicit comparable improvements in cognitive performance. These findings suggest that individuals restricted to arm exercise possess a similar capacity to elicit an exercise-induced cognitive performance benefit.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0224092
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright: © 2019 Hill et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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