Sports Medicine

, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 67–82 | Cite as

The Immediate Effects of Acute Aerobic Exercise on Cognition in Healthy Older Adults: A Systematic Review

  • Marie-Pier McSweenEmail author
  • Jeff S. Coombes
  • Christopher P. MacKay
  • Amy D. Rodriguez
  • Kirk I. Erickson
  • David A. Copland
  • Katie L. McMahon
Systematic Review



Age-related cognitive decline is a worldwide challenge, highlighting the need for safe, effective interventions that benefit cognition in older adults. Harnessing the immediate and long-term pleiotropic effects of aerobic exercise is one approach that has gained increasing interest.


The aim of this review is to provide knowledge on the immediate effects of acute aerobic exercise on cognitive function of healthy older adults and to assess the methodological quality of studies investigating these effects.


A database search in PubMed, CINAHL, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Embase, PsycINFO, Web of Science, and Google Scholar was conducted using a systematic search strategy.


Fifteen studies were identified and cognitive domains investigated included executive function and visual perception. Results from 14 of 15 studies showed that an acute bout of aerobic exercise can enhance at least one subsequent cognitive performance of healthy older adults when measured within 15 min post-exercise.


The small number of studies available, the limited domains of cognition investigated, the great variability between research protocols, and the low overall quality rating limits the conclusions that can be drawn. More comprehensive randomised controlled trials are needed to address these limitations and verify the potential benefits of acute aerobic exercise.



The authors would like to thank Dr. Kylie Wall for her valuable suggestions and expertise while conducting this review.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This work was supported by a Discovery Project grant from the Australian Research Council awarded to David Copland, Katie McMahon, Kirk Erickson, Amy Rodriguez and Jeff Coombes (grant number DP160104162). This research was also supported by a post-graduate international scholarship from The University of Queensland awarded to Marie-Pier McSween. David Copland was supported by a University of Queensland Vice Chancellor’s Fellowship.

Conflicts of Interest

Marie-Pier McSween, Jeff Coombes, Christopher MacKay, Amy Rodriguez, Kirk Erickson, David Copland and Katie McMahon declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this review.

Supplementary material

40279_2018_1039_MOESM1_ESM.docx (14 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 13 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Health and Rehabilitation SciencesThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.School of Human Movement and Nutrition SciencesThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Veterans AffairsCentre for Visual and Neurocognitive RehabilitationAtlantaUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  5. 5.UQ Centre for Clinical Research, The University of QueenslandHerstonAustralia
  6. 6.School of Clinical Sciences and Institute of Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia

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