Association between aerobic fitness and cerebrovascular function with neurocognitive functions in healthy, young adults

  • Jungyun Hwang
  • Kiyoung Kim
  • R. Matthew Brothers
  • Darla M. Castelli
  • F. Gonzalez-Lima
Research Article


Studies of the effects of physical activity on cognition suggest that aerobic fitness can improve cognitive abilities. However, the physiological mechanisms for the cognitive benefit of aerobic fitness are less well understood. We examined the association between aerobic fitness and cerebrovascular function with neurocognitive functions in healthy, young adults. Participants aged 18–29 years underwent measurements of cerebral vasomotor reactivity (CVMR) in response to rebreathing-induced hypercapnia, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) during cycle ergometry to voluntary exhaustion, and simple- and complex-neurocognitive assessments at rest. Ten subjects were identified as having low-aerobic fitness (LF < 15th fitness percentile), and twelve subjects were identified as having high-aerobic fitness (HF > 80th fitness percentile). There were no LF versus HF group differences in cerebrovascular hemodynamics during the baseline condition. Changes in middle cerebral artery blood velocity and CVMR during hypercapnia were elevated more in the HF than the LF group. Compared to the LF, the HF performed better on a complex-cognitive task assessing fluid reasoning, but not on simple attentional abilities. Statistical modeling showed that measures of VO2max, CVMR, and fluid reasoning were positively inter-correlated. The relationship between VO2max and fluid reasoning, however, did not appear to be reliably mediated by CVMR. In conclusion, a high capacity for maximal oxygen uptake among healthy, young adults was associated with greater CVMR and better fluid reasoning, implying that high-aerobic fitness may promote cerebrovascular and cognitive functioning abilities.


Aerobic fitness Cognition Maximal oxygen uptake Cerebrovascular function Young adult 



FGL was supported by a Grant to the University of Texas at Austin.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Health Technology Lab, Bouvé College of Health Sciences, College of Arts, Media and DesignNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Pathology, Center for Free Radical BiologyUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA
  3. 3.Department of Kinesiology, College of Nursing and Health InnovationUniversity of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Kinesiology and Health EducationUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  5. 5.Department of Psychology and Institute for NeuroscienceUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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