Research Study Abstract

Acute aerobic exercise effects on cognitive function in breast cancer survivors: a randomized crossover trial

  • Published on April 23, 2019

Many breast cancer survivors (BCS) report deficits in cognitive function. Physical activity (PA) has been associated with better processing speed and memory in healthy adults and thus may be a useful method for improving cognition in BCS. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of an acute bout of PA on processing speed and spatial working memory in a sample of BCS.

Using a repeated measures, crossover design, BCS [N = 27; Mage (SD) = 49.11(8.05)] completed two sessions in counterbalanced order: 30 min of moderate-intensity treadmill walking and 30 min of seated rest. Women completed cognitive tasks immediately before and after each session.

Within-subjects repeated measures analyses of variance revealed a significant time by session effect for processing speed reaction time [F (1,25) = 5.02, p = .03, η2 = 0.17]. This interaction was driven by significantly reduced reaction time (e.g., faster response) post-exercise and no change post-rest. Further between-subjects analyses indicated a significant time by session by moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) split [F (1,25) = 5.23, p = .03, η2 = 0.17], such that women who engaged in ≥45 min of average daily MVPA reduced their reaction time post-exercise (p = .01) and increased RT post-rest (p = .06). Time by session effects for spatial working memory 3-item accuracy and 4-item reaction time trended towards significance, p = 0.08 and p = 0.10, respectively, again driven by better performance post-exercise.

The moderate effect of acute exercise on domains of memory and processing speed in BCS is encouraging. Cancer-related cognitive impairment remains largely misunderstood; however, the results from the present study offer preliminary evidence for the positive relationship between acute exercise and cognition in BCS.


  • Elizabeth A. Salerno 1,2
  • Kendrith Rowland 3
  • Arthur F. Kramer 2,4
  • Edward McAuley 2


  • 1

    Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program, Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Metabolic Epidemiology Branch, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, 20892, USA

  • 2

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, USA

  • 3

    Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana, USA

  • 4

    Northeastern University, Boston, USA


BMC Cancer

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