Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 236, Issue 6, pp 1643–1649 | Cite as

Cortical neural arousal is differentially affected by type of physical exercise performed

  • Nicholas J. HansonEmail author
  • Lindsey E. Short
  • Lauren T. Flood
  • Nicholas P. Cherup
  • Michael G. Miller
Research Article


Critical flicker frequency (CFF) threshold is a visual discrimination task designed to assess cortical neural arousal, where higher values are associated with increased information processing and improved cognitive function. Previous studies using CFF assessments before and after exercise have only used one type of exercise (e.g., short, fatiguing, steady state, time to exhaustion, etc.). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine the effect of exercise type and intensity on neural arousal. 22 recreational runners (10 men, 12 women; age 25 ± 6 years) volunteered to participate in the study. They completed a VO2max test (short, fatiguing trial), and three 30-min treadmill runs (longer, steady-state trials) at rating of perceived exertion (RPE) levels of 13, 15, and 17. Before and after each exercise test, subjects were asked to complete the CFF test; Mtot and Mdi were calculated, which are the average and difference of the ascending/descending frequency trials, respectively. There were no main effects found for either intensity (p = 0.641) or time (p = 0.283); there was, however, a significant interaction found (intensity*time; p = 0.001). In the VO2max test and in the longer, steady-state runs at RPE13 and 15, there was no change in Mtot. There was a significant increase in Mtot after the run at RPE17 (p = 0.019). For Mdi, the VO2max test elicited a significant decrease (p = 0.005), but there was no change after the steady-state runs. The results suggest that short, fatiguing and longer, steady-state exercise affect cortical neural arousal differently. Increases in arousal, and perhaps the related domain of information processing, are more likely to come from steady-state exercise at a vigorous intensity.


Cognition Running VO2max RPE Self-paced 



This study was funded by an internal university research grant.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

None of the authors have any conflicts of interest to declare.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas J. Hanson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lindsey E. Short
    • 1
  • Lauren T. Flood
    • 1
  • Nicholas P. Cherup
    • 2
  • Michael G. Miller
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Human Performance and Health EducationWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazooUSA
  2. 2.School of Education and Human DevelopmentUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA

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