Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 235, Issue 12, pp 3785–3797 | Cite as

Habitual exercise is associated with cognitive control and cognitive reappraisal success

  • Grace E. GilesEmail author
  • Julie A. Cantelon
  • Marianna D. Eddy
  • Tad T. Brunyé
  • Heather L. Urry
  • Caroline R. Mahoney
  • Robin B. Kanarek
Research Article


Habitual exercise is associated with enhanced domain-general cognitive control, such as inhibitory control, selective attention, and working memory, all of which rely on the frontal cortex. However, whether regular exercise is associated with more specific aspects of cognitive control, such as the cognitive control of emotion, remains relatively unexplored. The present study employed a correlational design to determine whether level of habitual exercise was related to performance on the Stroop test measuring selective attention and response inhibition, the cognitive reappraisal task measuring cognitive reappraisal success, and associated changes in prefrontal cortex (PFC) oxygenation using functional near-infrared spectroscopy. 74 individuals (24 men, 50 women, age 18–32 years) participated. Higher habitual physical activity was associated with lower Stroop interference (indicating greater inhibitory control) and enhanced cognitive reappraisal success. Higher habitual exercise was also associated with lower oxygenated hemoglobin (O2Hb) in the PFC in response to emotional information. However, NIRS data indicated that exercise was not associated with cognitive control-associated O2Hb in the PFC. Behaviorally, the findings support and extend the previous findings that habitual exercise relates to more successful cognitive control of neutral information and cognitive reappraisal of emotional information. Future research should explore whether habitual exercise exerts causal benefits to cognitive control and PFC oxygenation, as well as isolate specific cognitive control processes sensitive to change through habitual exercise.


Exercise Executive function Emotion regulation Cognitive reappraisal fNIRS 



We would like to thank Brian Westgate for programming the cognitive reappraisal task. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not reflect those of the United States Army. Research reported was supported through a contract with the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center (NSRDEC, Natick, Massachusetts, USA) under award number W911QY-13-C-0012.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Grace E. Giles
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Julie A. Cantelon
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Marianna D. Eddy
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Tad T. Brunyé
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Heather L. Urry
    • 1
    • 3
  • Caroline R. Mahoney
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Robin B. Kanarek
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA
  2. 2.Cognitive Science TeamUS Army Natick Soldier, Research, Development, and Engineering CenterNatickUSA
  3. 3.Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive SciencesMedfordUSA

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