DOI: 10.3390/bs13120987 ISSN: 2076-328X

Effects of Physical Exercise on Executive Functions among College Students in China: Exploring the Influence of Exercise Intensity and Duration

Ming Yu, Xinyi Han, Xiaomei Wang, Rongxin Guan
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • General Psychology
  • Genetics
  • Development
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

Background: This study investigates the effects of exercise intensity and duration on executive functions among college students in China. Method: Participants in this study were Chinese college students divided into four groups based on exercise duration and intensity. Each group engaged in physical exercise twice a week for six weeks. Group 1 performed low-intensity exercises for 10 min per session; Group 2 performed low-intensity exercises for 20 min per session; Group 3 performed high-intensity exercises for 10 min per session; and Group 4 performed high-intensity exercise for 20 min per session. Executive functions were assessed in all subjects before the experiment (time 1), after one exercise session (time 2), at the end of the exercise program (time 3), and six weeks after the exercise program (time 4). A mixed ANOVA with a 2 (exercise intensity: low/high) × 2 (duration: short/long) × 4 (time of measurement: time 1/time 2/time 3/time 4) design was employed, with exercise intensity and exercise duration as independent variables and executive functions as the dependent variable. Results: Mixed ANOVA showed that the results revealed a significant main effect of measurement time on working memory accuracy (p < 0.001) and reaction time (p < 0.001); inhibition control accuracy (p < 0.001) and reaction time (p < 0.001); cognitive flexibility accuracy (p < 0.001) and reaction time (p < 0.001). A single session of high-intensity exercise significantly improved executive functions in college students. Both low-intensity and high-intensity exercise were effective in enhancing executive functions, with high-intensity exercise demonstrating better maintenance of the effect. Conclusion: Both exercise intensity and exercise duration were found to enhance executive functions in college students, with exercise intensity showing greater effectiveness than exercise duration.

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