An acute bout of exercise elicits a beneficial effect on subsequent cognitive function in adolescents. The effect of games-based activity, an ecologically valid and attractive exercise model for young people, remains unknown; as does the moderating effect of fitness on the acute exercise-cognition relationship. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to examine the effect of games-based activity on subsequent cognition in adolescents, and the moderating effect of fitness on this relationship.
Following ethical approval, 39 adolescents (12.3 ± 0.7 year) completed an exercise and resting trial in a counterbalanced, randomised crossover design. During familiarisation, participants completed a multi-stage fitness test to predict VO2 peak. The exercise trial consisted of 60-min games-based activity (basketball), during which heart rate was 158 ± 11 beats∙min− 1. A battery of cognitive function tests (Stroop test, Sternberg paradigm, trail making and d2 tests) were completed 30-min before, immediately following and 45-min following the basketball.
Response times on the complex level of the Stroop test were enhanced both immediately (p = 0.021) and 45-min (p = 0.035) post-exercise, and response times on the five item level of the Sternberg paradigm were enhanced immediately post-exercise (p = 0.023). There were no effects on the time taken to complete the trail making test or any outcome of the d2 test. In particular, response times were enhanced in the fitter adolescents 45-min post-exercise on both levels of the Stroop test (simple, p = 0.005; complex, p = 0.040) and on the three item level of the Sternberg paradigm immediately (p = 0.017) and 45-min (p = 0.008) post-exercise.
Games-based activity enhanced executive function and working memory scanning speed in adolescents, an effect particularly evident in fitter adolescents, whilst the high intensity intermittent nature of games-based activity may be too demanding for less fit children.