Effects of a single session of aerobic exercise on cognitive function among patients with chronic stroke
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The incidence of stroke is increasing and is expected to continue to increase with the aging population, escalating rates of obesity and physical inactivity, and the rising prevalence of heart failure. Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability, which includes approximately half of survivors that experience cognitive impairment. It is accepted that aerobic exercise can improve physical health in both healthy and stroke populations. Evidence also suggests aerobic exercise may positively affect cognitive function among healthy adults; however, whether there are similar beneficial effects among stroke survivors remains unclear. The purpose of this thesis was to examine whether a single session of moderate intensity aerobic exercise acutely improves cognitive function, specifically executive function, in comparison to a rest control among people with chronic stroke. Our first objective was to determine whether aerobic exercise alters cortical processing, as measured by P300 amplitude and latency during a modified Eriksen Flanker task. The second objective was to investigate whether aerobic exercise influences behavioral measures of response time and accuracy during a modified Eriksen Flanker task. Finally, the third objective was to examine the time course of effects up to 40 minutes after exercise cessation. In our sample, participants had shorter P300 latency and larger P300 amplitude 20 to 40 minutes after exercise cessation in comparison to rest. There were no significant behavioural changes. These findings suggest that aerobic exercise may enhance, or at least maintain cognitive processing speed and attention 20 to 40 minutes after exercise cessation, which otherwise deteriorated in the rest condition. Although results should be viewed cautiously due to a small sample size, these findings have potential implications for stroke rehabilitation. Our results suggest that aerobic exercise may be able to improve attentional focus during subsequent rehabilitation exercises for up to 40 minutes or more. Future research should examine whether the effects of various exercise doses and whether paired exercise and rehabilitation improves clinical outcomes.